Whether it’s ju ju beans, jawbreakers, lollipops, laffy taffy or skittles– there’s something about candy that makes it wonderful in small doses and sickening when you’ve eaten too much of it. As a kid, candy is one of the most amazing things in the world and most adults still keep some taste for candy even when they’ve grown up, but they also have much less tolerance for it. Speed Racer is candy, brightly colored, sweet, tart, a sugar rush of hyperkinetic energy that’s good as long as it lasts but it’s packaged with racing world and family melodrama that serves as the black licorice in the cinematic treat bag.
Speed Racer is really two movies, one is the pixie stick sugar rush flowing from the hyperkinetic cartoon inspired editing of the montages and race scenes and the other is the black licorice of the dialogue laden drama of the Racer family populated by a great cast of John Goodman, Emile Hirsch, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox and Christina Ricci. But these aren’t just two movies, they’re two incompatible flavors of movies geared to alienate two sets of audiences.
The drama vastly stretches out Speed Racer’s running time to over two hours and is certain to alienate the same kids that would adore its racing scenes. The racing scenes are certain to annoy and alienate Speed Racer’s older audience who might have appreciated the attempt to take the whole Speed Racer story seriously. The extended running time comes from the Wachowskis’ script which has too much flab on it, too many unnecessary moments, too many unnecessary lines for its own good. As a result Speed Racer only really takes off halfway into its running time and like its eponymous racer, once it gets going nothing can stop it, but by then the audience has spent too much time being alternately bored and annoyed.
The worst culprits that drag too much of Speed Racer down are the entire unnecessarily complicated Togokahn storyline which younger audiences won’t even be able to follow and the flashbacks that make the first half hour unnecessarily confusing. It’s not too surprising that the Wachowskis can’t tell a straight story but their complications and bloat add rather than detract from what could have been a very straightforward crowd pleasing movie.
Despite all the negativity toward Speed Racer, there is an enormously fun movie at the heart of it, powered by a great cast and some incredible energy and the last ten minutes of Speed Racer all but compensate for the drag and the aimless drama. Like candy though, not everyone hangs on to the taste for that sugar rush as an adult and not everyone can appreciate that while the Wachowskis may have turned Speed Racer into a bloated overdone monster in places, when it gets its wheels on the track it hits speeds that no live action camera can even begin to track.