** spoiler alert **
PlotSpeed Racer follows Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), a teenage Formula One racer. Speed drives the Mach 5, a white Formula One car with some special features. The car is owned by Racer Motors, which is an independent racing company owned by Speed’s parents Pops (John Goodman) and Mom (Susan Sarandon). Speed has a girlfriend named Trixie (Christina Ricci) and a little brother named Spritle, who happens to have a monkey. Speed is also possibly the best racer ever, but he’s not quite there yet because he still lives in the shadow of his older brother, Rex Racer, who died after standing up to race fixers. . . his name was smeared in the process too.
Over the course of a few races and the attempt by Royalton to get Speed to sell his soul, the story revolves around questions of honor, integrity, money versus sportsmanship, race fixing, cheating, and the importance of families. Naturally, the movie comes down to a final race between Speed and a childhood hero who is exposed as rotten, with Royalton’s company, Racer Motors, Rex’s reputation, and Speed’s life all on the line.
Just Kick Back And Enjoy ItOh, where to begin. . . let me start by saying that in a technical sense, this movie is positively brilliant and it achieves its purpose perfectly. The idea is to take a rather stylized cartoon and turn it into a live action film without losing the spirit of the cartoon, but simultaneously creating a movie worth watching. The film does that perfectly. In fact, this is easily one of the best adaptations of a cartoon on film. Not only does this movie capture the heart and soul of the original, but it manages to bring the cartoon’s stylized ways to real life actors. This is the movie Dick Tracy wished it had been.
Sounds great, right? So what’s the problem?
Well, that depends on who you ask. According to the liberal critics, the problem with this film is that it has “nothing of interest to anyone over the age of 10.” They also described the film as having an “undreamed of level of narrative incoherence.” In other words, they didn’t get it. Conservative critics attacked the film for being anti-capitalist. This is all wrong.
What’s going on here is that the critics couldn’t relate to the movie. They are cynics, and they are politicized to boot. Thus, a film that is entirely lacking in cynicism offends them. They cannot relate to a world where the good guy wears a white helmet and stands for loyalty, family and sportsmanship. They need corruption and anguish, which they mistake for drama. To them, the idea that a hero would have no flaws is just anathema.
At its core, Speed Racer is a true feel good story. Every time someone good is challenged, they overcome that challenge with the strength of their character and the help of their friends. These people are struggling to make a better world, a less cynical world free of rigged races, where races are raced for the thrill of the challenge to prove your own skill and mettle, not to make a quick buck or to try to live up to the abusive demands of failed parents. And Speed’s families is loving to the point of being downright corny. And you know what? It’s great to see that. These people are all capable, decent people without the slightest hint of an evil side, and that makes them easy to like. . . unless you’re a jaded media-type.
So here’s the bottom line. This film is not Citizen Cane. It’s not deep. It’s not nuanced. It’s not complex. It’s not Star Wars and won’t spark an entirely new genre. But this film deserves a second chance. Turn out the lights, put it on the biggest screen in your house, put all your cynicism aside, and just enjoy this film for what it is – it’s a film about a young man in an amazingly frenetic and flashy world who wants to make the world a better place. That make him a real hero.