When Speed Racer ends and you walk out of the theater, you realize something: The real world looks like shit. Bland and blurry and gray and drab and dirty, actual existence is the exact opposite of the world that the Wachowski Brothers have created in their latest film—a place that's so hyperkinetic, hyperactive, and hypercolored that once you see it, it's impossible not to get caught up in it, and captivated by it, and turned into a drooling, blank-eyed idiot. Speed Racer might not be much more than a visually mind-blowing sugar rush, but goddamn, I kind of love it.
Speed Racer is based on the groundbreaking anime series from the '60s, and this is of the utmost importance: This time, instead of just reappropriating anime techniques, as they did in the Matrix movies, here the Wachowski Brothers are unabashedly making a full-on, live-action anime, complete with zoom lines, candy-colored set designs, cartoony explosions, and cartoonier people. There's a story in here, too, somewhere: Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) drives a car really, really fast in order to get back at an eeeevil corporate overlord (Roger Allam) who's blackmailing Speed's family (including his sweet parents, played by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon). Speed's also got Trixie (Christina Ricci), his hot girlfriend who flies a pink helicopter, and there's also a little candy-lovin' fat kid (Paulie Litt)—not to mention Chim-Chim, the Racer family's loyal chimpanzee! Oh, and also: ninjas!
Speed Racer isn't utterly nonsensical, but, appropriately enough, it's damn close—in a world where cars spend as much time flying as they do driving, it's a bit naïve to expect things like plot and character to operate according to standard norms. Speed Racer is the sort of film where an ominous lecture on corporate greed is spliced with footage of a manic Chim-Chim driving through a swarm of people on Segways while a little fat kid stands up in the passenger seat, inexplicably air guitaring for all he's worth.
Good god, that sentence is gibberish, but worse, it's a needless digression: Speed Racer isn't about character and plot, nor is it in the least bit concerned about if its audience is going to "get" what it's trying to do. (Though, at the screening I attended, its target audience of preteens totally got it, laughing and whooping and oohing and awwing as if on cue.) Speed Racer is about color and momentum and sheen and pop—like if the brightest Warhols and Lichtensteins were soaked in adrenaline and gasoline and crammed into a special effects computer—and with its gorgeous, kaleidoscopic palette and its preposterous camerawork, the skilled Wachowskis aim to do little else but catch the audience up in the ludicrous thrill of a cartoon.
Like the first Matrix, Speed Racer looks and feels like nothing else we've ever seen on film—but while the Matrixes (Matrices?) became increasingly bogged down with melodrama, allegory, and technobabble, Speed Racer, thankfully, never stops being fun—even the end credits are goofily psychedelic. You're either the sort of person who can roll with this sort of thing or you're not; if you're not, I'd advise you to stay home in the real world, where shit-flinging monkeys aren't valuable allies in kung fu showdowns, and where neon cars don't frantically careen through bright blue ice tunnels or blissfully spin out in bright orange deserts. But if you're down for any of the above, fuck, are you gonna have a great time.