There's a scene towards the end of Act I in the Wachowski brother's madcap live action-anime mashup when Speed's scamp of a younger brother Spritle and his pet chimpanzee Chim Chim secretly gorge themselves on a cupboard full of brightly coloured jellybean candies ' then collapse in a heap on the floor.
That's how I left watching this movie.
As far as eye candy goes, you couldn't ask for more. The Wachowskis have taken a cult anime show from the late 1960s ' a kind of Japanese Wacky Racers from the look of it, with a bit of The Jetsons mixed in ' and recreated it on an immeasurably glossier canvas.
A race track is like an undulating virtual Scalextric model, except that at any moment the cars might take off, roll over, or battle like beyblades. A factory is a Disneyland of state of the art innovation and design ' but even a surburban family home is a riot of saturated primary colours. No cartoon ever shone so brightly.
Robert Mitchum once said that a movie actor's job is to steal the reality of the costumes and the props. Here these things have no reality, and instead the actors take on the synthetic, plastic quality of their surroundings. They include Emile Hirsch (from Into the Wild) as the eponymous Speed Racer; John Goodman and Susan Sarandon are his mom and dad; Christina Ricci is his girlfriend, Trixie; and Matthew Fox, rather good as the enigmatic Racer X.
The effect is self-consciously corny and cool ' but miraculously, not camp. The Wachowskis appreciate an alternate reality when they see one. Mind you, there is something more than a little perverse about expending this much creative energy (and no doubt, hard cash) on what is still essentially a fairytale for car-crazy kids. This movie has a visual imagination far in advance of 300, for example, but it's such a mild ride ' no sex, no violence to worry about ' you have to wonder if there are enough 10-year-old boys in the world to make it worthwhile. Gosh-darn it, Speed even celebrates a victory with a glass of milk!
As an ex-ten year old boy myself, I appreciate the Wachowskis' nostalgia for daydreams, the idle fantasies of heroic victories against impossible odds that would brighten up any maths lesson, and the blind faith in techno-utopia we all used to believe was right around the corner.
That's the world Speed wants to be part of. Instead he gets a nasty wake up call when the smarmy owner of Royalton Industries (Roger Allam ' who always reminds me uncomfortably of Christopher Hitchens) wraps a corporate arm around his shoulder and offers him fame and fortune. The price is nothing to speak of: dependence and disillusionment.
That's the kind of reality check Neo kept getting in The Matrix, and on some level Speed Racer might be interpreted as a primer for that more ambitious (if fatally over-stretched) undertaking.
But it would be wrong to take this too seriously: it's chasing a sense of fun; simple pleasures; innocent escapism.
Does it catch it? Yes and no. It's often dazzling as a kind of fast-moving pop-art display, but it's almost impossible to care about such artificial constructs (I hesitate to call them characters) and virtual realities. Even the most innocent ten year old is given way too much time to figure out where it's all headed. I kept reaching for the joy-stick, but then I would remember this is a movie, not a computer game.
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