Wachowski brothers bring ‘Speed Racer’ to big screen | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wachowski brothers bring ‘Speed Racer’ to big screen

Howie Nave

Warner Bros. Emile Hirsch stars as the title character in "Speed Racer."

Remember Saturday morning cartoons when you were a kid? They didn’t look so linear, like so many of today’s animated characters. There was a smartness that was drawn in that years later would make sense in adulthood.

“Speed Racer” is not that cartoon, but it’s still one that made you want to drive at the age of 6. Now, take the cartoon from television and combine real-life actors into a Toontown scenario with CGI all over the track, and the movie version of “Speed Racer” is what you get. OK, so it’s way more sophisticated than the original animated series, but the look and feel still are there.

“Speed Racer” has “Wachowski Brothers” written all over it, which makes sense since they both directed and wrote the script. The brothers both are huge fans of those now-classic early ’60s Japanese television series, plus being inspired by all things manga was the crux for their cool “Matrix” trilogy. That series was more accessible for a wider demographic, and I doubt that “Speed Racer” will appeal to so many. Still, the bulk of today’s movie audience seems to be the iPod set, whose attention span sometimes is brief.

I liked the flick because I’ve been a longtime fan of Japanese anime, and within a few minutes felt like I was inside a video game in some IMAX setting instead of just viewing it.

The cast is pretty good, most notably Emile Hirsch. What a far cry this flick is from his “Into the Wild,” which Sean Penn directed. Here, Hirsch takes a far lighter direction, playing the title character of Speed Racer, who was born to be a speed demon. The family’s business is racing, with an octane history of all things mechanical; that includes Pops Racer (John Goodman). He’ll eventually design the famous Mach 5 for his son.

Speed’s older brother, Rex Racer (Scott Porter), also is part of the family’s legacy for speed, but unfortunately is killed under mysterious circumstances that thrust Speed into the racing spotlight. I mean, he’s always been an incredibly gifted driver, but it takes some adversity to get your motor into gear.

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The family’s legacy is continued with younger sibling Spritle (Paulie Litt), and the requisite primate named Chim Chim. (I can’t help it, but I kept thinking of that orangutan, Clyde, in “Every Which Way But Loose” with Clint Eastwood and its subsequent sequel, “Any Which Way You Can.” I also was reminded of Disney’s 1982 movie “Tron” for some reason.) Rounding out the cast are Speed’s mom (Susan Sarandon) and his girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci).

The story is simple, with an underlying message that it’s not always about big business, but more about loyalty and not selling out on your dreams and goals to get there. In fact, part of Speed’s motivation is turning down a lucrative contract from Royalton Industries that sets him on his quest to fulfill those unfulfilled dreams of his late brother. Yeah, I know it seems corny, and really the best parts of the film are the obvious racing scenes complete with CGI effects, but you can’t deny the total adrenaline rush when watching the combination of real-life filmmaking with animation to tell the story.

It’s not a bad flick, it’s just up against a few more-powerful blockbusters, and here it’s only May and we’re not even into summer yet.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout Northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio, and you can see his film reviews on RSN. For past reviews, blogs and audio clips, visit http://www.HowieNave.com.