(HollywoodChicago) – While Hollywood slapped “PG” on the hotly anticipated “Speed Racer” to line its pocketbooks with the widest hodgepodge of people (ahem: kids) everywhere, those same kids will leave the theater with that lollipop nearly sucked to the stick but then yanked away with confusion.

Rather than the “go!” marketing hype, this is a stop-and-go proposition. Chicago brothers Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski are ultimately wrangling with a clear identity crisis of who this film is meant for.

Emile Hirsch in “Speed Racer”.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Is it the 1967 crowd who adored the American anime version following the Japanese manga creation?

Is it for today’s children who didn’t grow up with the franchise but will magically identify with it from scratch because it’s on the big screen? Perhaps it’s for “The Matrix” crowd who slobber over the Wachowski’s sensory orgy?

A slathering of all of the above will be influenced by the omnipresent advertising and power of the Wachowski name, which has been catapulted to stardom with the trail-blazing triumph of “The Matrix” films.

But with summer blockbuster season in full effect for 2008, moviegoers won’t spend in droves the way they recently did with “Iron Man,” which is so far the best-reviewed film of the year.

With a production budget of $140 million, “Iron Man” has already earned $220 million in worldwide box-office receipts in its first six days of release, according to Box Office Mojo. With a production budget of $100 million, “Speed Racer” won’t see those kind of box-office numbers.

Despite its bevy of blemishes, you can’t deny its color. There’s an intense vibrancy to the environment that – while unrealistic in the real world – is beautifully charming in Hollywood’s CGIville.

Knowing they had to hop beyond another planet in the solar system following 2003’s “The Matrix Revolutions,” the Wachowskis don’t disappoint in the “Speed Racer” special effects department.

The brothers continue to break new ground, and in doing so, they play an important role in inspiring other visionaries to forge new lines of thinking.

Just as “The Matrix” in 1999 had sequences that have been among the most emulated in Hollywood today over the past decade, the Wachowskis continue to up their own bar.

As for Emile Hirsch as the namesake Speed Racer character, his meek and chill demeanor off the racetrack and then world-champion talent on it displays light years of transformation. This is only one year after playing a wilderness hitchhiker in the Oscar-nominated 2007 film “Into the Wild”.

That, too, came a long way from the boy Hirsch played in “The Girl Next Door”.

As Hirsch returns to boyhood in “Speed Racer” under the inspiration of John Goodman as his “Pops” and Susan Sarandon as his mom, you’re left with the sense that he works in the playful role but hasn’t quite figured out his destiny in the bird’s eye view of his acting career.

Christina Ricci – who bested Rose McGowan (the Wachowskis felt she was too old) for the part of Trixie in “Speed Racer” – has also come full circle since memorably playing Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Family” in 1991. Due to the campy nature of “Speed Racer,” she has on one hand grown up and on another regressed back to that same child.

Larry Wachowski, by the way, is not actually Lana Wachowski. Because the Wachowski brothers decline interviews with the press, rumors surfaced in 2003 that Larry was undergoing a sex change. In 2007, Wachowski producer Joel Silver debunked the rumor. He said: “They just don’t do interviews, so people make things up.”

In April 2008, news surfaced that the reclusive Wachowski brothers will be opening a post-production studio on Chicago’s north side.

“Speed Racer” opened on May 9, 2008.


© 2008 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com