Having taken a break from directing since completing The Matrix trilogy five years ago, the Wachowski brothers (who wrote and produced but didn’t direct their last film, the abysmal V for Vendetta) are back in the driving seat with this sci-fi sports movie targeted at a younger audience than their cyberpunk opus. It’s a live action though CG-heavy adaptation of a 1960s Japanese television anime about a futuristic family of race car designer-drivers that was dubbed into English and became a popular with American kids, little Andy and Larry Wachowski included.
The Wachowskis version casts Emile Hirsch (last seen in a very different kind of film, Sean Penn’s outdoors drama Into the Wild) as the titular teen hero, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as mom and pop Racer, and Christina Ricci as Speed’s spunky girlfriend Trixie. The rudimentary story pits this all-American family of auto freaks against a race-rigging British corporate fat cat named Royalton (Roger Allam), and the film’s message is: business bad, family good, winning best of all.
Not that any of it really matters in a film that’s spectacle-driven. With the cast acting within and playing second fiddle to an otherwise fully computer-generated world, one wonders why the Wachowskis bothered at all with the human element. The cartoon styling and retro look are immaculately conceived, and the race sequences are migraine-inducing, stomach-churning thrill-rides that handle like the video games the film is indebted to. That said, Speed Racer nevertheless suffers – as did The Matrix franchise – from far too many longueurs, which are likely to leave the target audience bored.
General release from Fri 9 May.