Cover Story

'Speed Racer': A Family Film -- 'Matrix'-Style

EW's exclusive preview tracks the Wachowski brothers' attempt to rev up a '60s cartoon icon to become a summer blockbuster

Emile Hirsch | EMILE HIRSCH AS SPEED ''He's cooler than cool when he's outside the car, but he goes crazy behind the wheel. It's almost like Dr. Jekyll…
Image credit: Warner Bros.
EMILE HIRSCH AS SPEED ''He's cooler than cool when he's outside the car, but he goes crazy behind the wheel. It's almost like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde''

Andy and Larry Wachowski are tantalizingly close. On this cloudy March afternoon, you can practically sense their presence here on the Warner Bros. lot. The reclusive siblings are no doubt ensconced inside one of the studio's high-security editing suites, working feverishly to put final touches on Speed Racer, their first writing and directing project since reinventing the action genre with their revolutionary Matrix trilogy.

At this moment, they might be mere yards away. ''Too bad they won't talk to reporters,'' blurts out producer Joel Silver as he races in a bumpy golf cart toward a screening room where he'll be showing EW the first reel of one of this summer's early tentpoles (the rest of Speed Racer starts unspooling in theaters on May 9). ''But what the boys told me — what they'd be telling you now, if you were talking to them — was that they watched and loved the Speed Racer cartoon as kids. That's what attracted them to the project. They wanted to make a movie the whole family could enjoy.''

That's right, the Wachowskis are making a family film. Deal with it. For years the brothers have been lambasted for glamorizing mayhem in their movies — some critics even went so far as to blame The Matrix for the Columbine massacre. It may, in fact, be one of the reasons they now live in Kubrickian isolation, shunning interviews and scurrying into editing bays whenever members of the press come calling (another might be those widely circulated reports of Larry's gender-bending proclivities, but let's not get into that). This summer, though, the brothers are rebooting a character from their own childhoods for a film that tries to blow the minds of moviegoers — especially the littler ones — without inflicting a single casualty. A movie based on a Japanese cartoon about a fast-talking race-car driver in a white jumpsuit who hasn't moved his neck or blinked an eye in 40 years. No doubt you're mentally humming his theme song right now (''Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer, he's a demon on wheels...''). And praying the Wachowskis come up with a less annoying one for their movie.

Judging from the advance footage, Speed Racer is a family film alright, but a family film that missed a couple of doses of Ritalin. With a budget of $120 million, it's bristling with enough trippy special effects — including nifty new focusing tricks and colors so insanely high-def they're nearly 3-D — that even some grown-ups might find themselves mesmerized (or lapsing into seizures). Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) stars as racing fiend Speed Racer, who battles bad guys while winning grands prix in a pimped-out ride called the Mach 5 (well equipped with ''auto-jacks'' that boost it into the air, a ''deflector'' to keep bullets away, and a ''homing rocket'' that flits off for assistance whenever Speed takes a wrong turn). Matthew Fox from Lost has a role as the mysterious Racer X, who may or may not be Speed's long-lost brother; Christina Ricci is Trixie, his always-helpful helicopter-pilot gal pal, while Susan Sarandon and John Goodman are ''Mom'' and ''Pops'' Racer. Just don't blink. Nobody in this movie stays in one place for very long. ''Everything in the film just pops a little more,'' Hirsch says of the picture's frenetic, cascading visuals. ''Larry and Andy do this thing with animation-style focus control, where two things can be in focus at the same time — it makes the movie pop like a comic. It's kind of cool and funny and iconic and quirky. But it's also something kids would go crazy for.''

NEXT PAGE: ''You know that scene in one of the Matrix movies where the bee camera goes under a truck, and you're like, 'How'd they do that?' Well, the Wachowskis wanted to make a whole movie like that. With racing cars.''

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