Review: Speed Racer

It's hard to say whether the Wachowski brothers' live action take on the Japanese Speed Racer cartoons is more irritating because it looks like a Hot Wheels video game or because the brothers seem to think that there's a powerful family drama humming away beneath the flashing lights and spinning wheels.

The Racer family is all about cars: Pops Racer (John Goodman) builds them, oldest son Rex (Scott Porter) drives them, younger son Speed (Nicholas Elai) can't think about anything else and Mom (Susan Sarandon) provides sandwiches and unflagging encouragement. But the joy goes out of the family business when Rex and Pops have a falling out; Rex goes on to develop a reputation as a dirty driver before dying in a fiery crash during the arduous Casa Cristo 5000 rally, the family rift still unresolved.

Some ten years later, Speed (Emile Hirsch) has matured into one of the World Racing League's best drivers, thanks in part to his zen-like rapport with the Mach 5, his father's masterpiece, and the family has expanded to include Speed's spunky girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci), bratty little brother Spritle (Paulie Ltt) and a hyperactive chimpanzee named Chim-Chim. Speed is being courted by smarmy corporate fat cat E.P. Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam), whose drivers are consistent WRL winners, but when he declines to continue racing under the Racer family banner, Royalton turns ugly: He's going to make sure Speed never wins another race, and ruin his family into the bargain. Enter Inspector Detector (Benno Furman) and Racer X (Matthew Fox), supposedly the sport's bad guy but actually an undercover operative trying to expose corporate race fixing: If Speed will work with them, corrupt creeps like Royalton will be forced out. Various contrived complications later, Speed finds himself competing in the Casa Cristo, on a team with Racer X – whom he's begun to suspect might be his brother in disguise – and Taejo Togokahn (Korean pop star Rain), the ambitious scion of another racing dynasty.

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