by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he unwritten rule in Hollywood (actually it's probably written all over the place, in big black boldface script) is that once you hit it big, you've got nothing left to do but outdo yourself. So there sat the Wachowski brothers, wondering what to direct after they imagined, then brought to life, a world that we'd never seen on the screen in their Matrix trilogy. Both in their early 40s, they'd no doubt watched Speed Racer on TV when they were kids. It's obvious that they like the idea of fast-moving vehicles - think about that wild fistfight atop a barreling 18-wheeler in The Matrix Reloaded -- and they now have the clout to make anything they damn well please.
Can't you hear the catchy theme song? "Go, Speed Racer, go!" The Wachowskis' movie does just that: It goes! It flies and swoops and swerves -- and that's just the camera work. It's blindingly colorful and completely unrealistic (or maybe it's hyper-realistic, whatever that means) and it takes turns being big and loud and then bigger and louder. Its first 15 minutes are so wild and dizzying, it's hard to tell if the story's being told in present time or in flashback, since it jumps furiously between both.
Based on the one-season run of the 1967 anim & eacute; TV show, the film is about the Racer family: Speed has been obsessed with race cars since he was a tyke; older brother Rex died long ago in a racing accident, and Speed still idolizes him; Pops builds race cars; Mom offers good cheer.
It's also about adrenaline-fueled races, on tracks that soar above seated spectators or twist into roller coaster loops, in which drivers spin out and explode and sometimes roll up into fuzzy balls and drop down chutes. There's a hefty dose of high-tech gobbledygook, and there are sinister takeover plots galore.
Here's some advice: Don't pay too much attention to what all of these people are saying and doing. Just buckle up, sit back, try not to knock over your popcorn and Coke, and go along for the ride.
This is a film that doesn't need a video game based on it, because this film is a video game. Its grandfather is Disney's offbeat, fast-paced car racing epic Tron, which broke all kinds of ground a quarter-century ago.
The plot -- when Speed Racer settles down to one -- concerns everyone trying to get their hands on the young but accomplished driver. Pops (John Goodman) assumes he'll drive for his team, Racer Motors. But one day, there's a knock on the door, and there stands big Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam, channeling an Al Gore gone bad), bearing gifts and demanding that Speed drive for the Royalton Industries team.
The love interest is Trixie (Christina Ricci) -- helicopter pilot extraordinaire and the best wearer of red lipstick that you'll find in any movie. Her story is a little confusing. She seems to be Speed's girlfriend, but also seems to live in Speed's parents' home. But before you can figure that one out, the script has you wondering about who will control the transponder factory (please remember the advice about ignoring things like that) and worrying how Speed will do in the 500-mile cross country road rally that crosses hilly deserts and sweeps along treacherous winding mountain roads.
The only time to breathe while watching this film is when Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Lords of Dogtown), playing Speed, has a couple of son-parent chats with Mom and with Pops. But then he's back in the T-180 or the Mach 5, and other drivers are coming right at him as if they had all just gotten off on the Ben-Hur chariot race, the mysterious Racer X appears on the scene, Batman allusions start flying, a chimp is trying to get a tan, and the lovely Trixie wants to know, darn it, Speed, when're you gonna kiss me?