Cough! Ptooey! Frantic Speed Racer Spews Toxic Fumes

Running Time 129 minutes
Written and
directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski
Starring Emile Hirsch, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, John Goodman

Even for summer trash, this abomination by the creatively challenged Wachowski brothers is a train wreck so bad that words literally fail me, but I will say it looks like somebody ate 25 cafeteria Jello-O congealed salads and then threw up all over the sets. Happily, I was out of town for Iron Man and have no intention of catching up, but slashing whatever I.Q. points I saved was Speed Racer, an obnoxious two-hour-and-15-minute tribute to noise and Fiestaware from the muttonheads who polluted the planet with the Matrix trilogy; it’s pretty much in a garbage pile of its own. Summer isn’t even officially here yet, but for me Speed Racer fires the opening shot for what threatens to be a three-month school-vacation Marvel-comics festival of violence, stupidity, junk and unsaturated fat, aimed at morons with I.Q.’s of 40 and under, and starring assorted hulks, Spider-Men, Batmen, ninjas, robots, superheroes that are anything but super, and Adam Sandler. Few summer movies promise to be more nauseating than Speed Racer, unless you count the one with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as siblings (you need a barf bag just for the trailers).

Speed Racer is everything I despise about what passes for filmmaking today, overwhelmed as it is by digital effects, Japanese animation, buzz-saw CGI combined with live action, 3-D storyboard animation, Asian martial arts, and flying racing cars dubbed automotive “Car-Fu”; there’s no way to underestimate the paralyzing boredom of it all. All attempts at dialogue, human relations and the sign of a real heartbeat are decimated by a triteness that reduced the preview audience to screams of laughter. But there, wandering open-mouthed with bewilderment through the ugliness and eardrum-puncturing cacophony, are people like Emile Hirsch, trashing his reputation from Into the Wild; John Goodman, in an old Shirley Temple wig, and Susan Sarandon, of all people, as his parents; and Christina Ricci, dressed like a pinafored Finger-Me doll and looking like Little Lulu, as a girlfriend-companion since childhood named Trixie. Based on the plotless Japanese TV cartoons that invaded American after-school living rooms in the 1960’s, the movie limply tells of the racing-obsessed Racer family, a suburban coven from Leave It to Beaver who live in a tangerine-flaked fruit-loop world that looks like a Peter Max nightmare, with Pops Racer (Goodman) designing psychedelic racing cars in his garage; Mom Racer (Sarandon) serving up cherry red food and green coffee in orange cups; Speed Racer (Hirsch), who dreams of racing his Mach 5 in something called the Casa Cristo Classic 5000; bratty kid brother Spritle (played by a butterball who babbles so incoherently you can’t understand a word he says); and a karate-chopping chimpanzee that brains the bad guys with a “monkey wrench”—get it? These are the laughs. All of them mourn the early death of older brother and family champ Rex Racer, who crashed and burned, but nothing depresses this family long—not even their cotton-candy world that seems drawn with a kindergarten 100-size box of aqua, topaz, pomegranate and purple Crayolas. Yes, there are villains: a rival diver called Taejo Togokahn, played by forgettable Asian pop star Rain in his American film debut; and a corrupt corporate tycoon named Royalton (Roger Allam), who fixes races and runs his cartel in a speeding truck, where he feeds his enemies to a tank of hungry piranhas. Trying to seduce Speed into the cartel, he takes the family through an assembly line replete with owls, penguins and gilt-edged gambling casinos, like a futuristic space ride at Disney World. When Speed turns down the offer to become rich and famous, Royalton declares war on the entire Racer legacy. Backed by another sponsor, Speed gets into the big race, spouting reams of teenage drivel about tire shanks, battery boosters and activation shields, while girlfriend Trixie pilots a helicopter overhead. The acting consists of a lot of teeth-clenching, eye-narrowing and mouth-gaping, but there’s nothing here to play anyway. Here are a plethora of good actors visibly enjoying their paychecks in front of saffron yellow rear projectors, but there’s no trace of humanity in anything they do or say. To save Pops’ motor company, Speed teams up with Racer X (Matthew Fox from TV’s Lost), a racing deity who takes it upon himself to act as surrogate older brother without ever removing his mask. Although the audience is now raising the roof with belly laughs, Speed is the last one to recognize his long lost brother Rex with a face lift.

The race goes on for half an hour. But this movie is determined to break one more record. It wants to be the first movie in history that never ends. There’s still the Grand Prix to endure, but first they have to invent a new car that flies, with Trixie drilling holes and Mom feeding everyone peanut butter. Nothing in it makes one lick of sense. When people say things like “You don’t do it because you’re a driver—you do it because you’re driven,” you just cringe. If this is supposed to be some loud science-fiction, alternate-reality universe, then why, when the blasting crunches, squealing brakes, screeching tires and revved-up motors quiet down long enough for Speed and Trixie to park in Lover’s Lane, are lush soundtrack strings playing “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” by Rodgers and Hart? Even when people pucker up to form words, they compete with a pointless synergy of stop-motion camerawork and a heavenly choir yelling “Hallelujah!” in tempo. The press notes quote producer Joel Silver on the Wachowski brothers: “They wanted to change the way you see movies again.” They failed. Speed Racer makes you want to never see a movie again as long as you live. I can sit through just about anything, but I draw the line at two hours and 15 minutes of fuchsia vomit. To suffer through this kind of hell, movie critics deserve combat pay.