In the opening moments of Speed Racer, you might find yourself asking, "Did I step into a Dr. Seuss movie by mistake?" The look is alarming. But beneath a heap--a great heap--of bright colors and visual gimmicks lies a children's movie that not only entertains adults but also stays true to its source.
Starting with a simultaneous track race and flashback sequence, the writing/directing Wachowski Brothers open full throttle and only rarely ease up. In the flashback, young Speed (Nicholas Elia) watches his idolized older brother Rex (Scott Porter) die in a racing accident, and in the present, adult Speed (Emile Hirsch) wins his race, intentionally falling short of his brother's speed record. Still, his win affords him some attention, notably from Royalton (Roger Allam), CEO of an enormous racing conglomerate that wants Speed to drive for its team. When Speed refuses, Royalton lets him in on a few ugly industry secrets, ending with a soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecy that Speed will suffer an unfortunate crash in his next race, and his family's racing company will be entangled indefinitely in legal suits. But all hope is not lost: To his aid comes a government agency investigating Royalton's mob affiliation, along with the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox). Their offer leads to what are arguably the best sequences in the movie: a long, dangerous, cross-country race for Speed to challenge Royalton's thugs and bulldog grip on the industry.
To say that the first act of Speed Racer is jarring is to understate the point immensely. The brilliant hues, the machine-gun editing, the temporal shifts, the relentless action--it's exhausting, and it takes the entire first act to settle into a sustainable, if still blazing, pace. But once it does, the Wachowskis show their worth by keeping a firm grip on the human element of the story while still slaloming through intrigue, races, and, of course, kung fu. Glaring through all that kinetic action are shades of green, red, and blue that are enough to give aging hippies an acid flashback, but the cartoonish feel works, if only because it's pushed so far over the top that you can't help but admire its audacity.
What about that damn chimpanzee running around? And that annoying chubby kid? Yes, there are some concessions made for the benefit of younger audience members, so be warned. But peppering the movie are all sorts of fun nostalgic touches--when was the last time you heard the word "swell" on screen?--and its simple theme of integrity makes Speed Racer an awfully hard entertainment to hate. That, and $100 million worth of hot cars being inventively destroyed.