Is it a good thing if I understood every single minute of "Speed Racer?" I "got" everything: from the initial race where he's chasing his brother's ghost to the weird, comic-book-y backgrounds to the back room stock market manipulations necessitating race-fixing.
People are dissing it online for being a plasticky, colorful, music video. I'm praising it for exactly the same reasons.
* * * * *
The problem with translating a silly cartoon (or comicbook) to a live-action film is in deciding what parts to keep. With a premise like "Speed Racer's" the task becomes more difficult. How do you explain a world where car racing is the most important thing there is, short of characterizing the Racer family as psychopaths?
The answer: you try your best.
The cleverest bit of "Speed Racer" is in developing a scenario where racing is the most important thing. In the film's universe, racing affects stock prices by driving up demand for the fusion engines used. Sort of like F1 but more direct, as in the result of the Grand Prix is reflected on the following day's trading. And as with anything affecting the economy, the major players try their best to control the outcome.
Which is a damn shame. It puts corporate interests on top of what should be good, clean fun finding out who's fastest. The Racer family lives by (and on) this, treating car racing as a noble sport and an art form. Which is why the slightest whiff of corporate sponsorship turns them off. Speed turns down an offer and gets schooled in the dark side of car racing: a cartel runs everything, the races aren't won by the best but by the sponsors who will benefit most from it.
But he lands a slot in the Grand Prix (by means of an invitation gained by winning a deadly rally in order to expose insider trading) and shocks the racing Illuminati by winning, proving that an honest man can still make it in this (well, that, actually) world.
* * * * *
The best line belongs to Christina Ricci as Trixie, exclaiming “Oh my God! Is that a ninja?” after seeing who attacked them. Delivered both in and out of character, in a manner that simultaneously plays it straight for the kids while winking at the adults. Which is exactly how the cast and crew treated the entire film.
Works for me.