The live-action adaptation of the old Japanese cartoon series tells a familiar story of young Speed (Emile Hirsch), who’s racing to save the family team from a greedy corporate fatcat (Speed Racer takes an awfully grim view of corporate capitalism for a movie with $80 million worth of merchandise tie-ins), and who partners with the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox), who may be Speed’s supposedly dead brother Rex. The Wachowski siblings’ follow-up to the Matrix trilogy disappointed a lot of viewers and flopped at the box office, but there are those who argue that that it’s a movie ahead of its time.
Certainly, its use of saturated, eye-popping colors approaches the pop-bubblegum sensory overload of Japanese anime like no other live-action movie. The entire movie was shot in a green-screen studio, with CGI foregrounds and backgrounds added later and with equally sharp focus on all planes so that the film would look more like a cartoon. That frees the race sequences from the tyranny of the oval track, allowing the cars to zip along vertical loops, around mountains, across rivers, and over chasms. The movie may have been made to capitalize on Gen X nostalgia, but whenever it gets behind the wheel, it’s rushing headlong into the future.