I'm not much for fate, but I do believe the name we're born with can determine a lot about the person we grow up to be.
Take former Seahawks fullback Mack Strong. The only better name for a fullback would be He-Monster, Destroyer of Linebackers. When you're born as Mack Strong, it should almost be expected you'll end up as a premier NFL player. The real surprise is he hasn't ended up conquering us all as the great and terrible God-Emperor of earth.
Under Mack Strong's awesome reign, some might grow up to play pro football, but the only other job in Strongdonia would be the ceaseless construction of 80-foot statues in his glorious image.
Likewise, when Speed Racer's parents named him, you can be damn sure they knew he wasn't going to end up as a pastry chef or a turtle breeder. Kid's going to race cars. They didn't do as well with his older brother Rex. Other than SIDS, about the only name worse for a young racer would be Burn-Unit.
In Speed Racer, Emile Hirsch (as Speed) has been obsessed with racing since he was a kid and older brother Scott Porter was setting records all across the pro circuit. The sport eventually costs Porter his life, but if anything, that just makes Hirsch's drive to compete all the stronger.
And he's got the talent to match. His ability catches the eye of Roger Allam, founder of Royalton Industries, a megacorporation that sponsors some of the best drivers in the game. Now, he wants Hirsch on his team, too.
But the Racer team's always been independent, family-owned, and Hirsch regretfully turns him down--only to be laughed at. The sport's always been fixed, Allam tells him, and deciding who wins and who loses is nothing more than a way to manipulate a sponsor's stock price. Hirsch doesn't want to play ball? Then, Allam will run him right out of the sport.
This live-action Speed Racer is so faithful to the original cartoon I have no doubt they'll some day be holding hands in Mediocre Entertainment Heaven. Whatever their faults, writer/directors the Wachowski Brothers are terribly exciting visual stylists, and they make Speed Racer look cartoony -- in a good way -- the same way 300 and Sin City looked comic booky.
It's a weird thing to stare at a shiny, hyper-stylized car tear-assing around a murderously curved, obviously-not-real track and know that everything you're looking at is fake, conjured from the guts of some two-steps-from-sentient supercomputer, but also so convincing it's as if the Wachowskis transported a video camera into an alternate candy-colored universe and then smuggled the film back to ours.
Graphically, the boys have few if any rivals.
Criminally, they bring the same cartoon sensibility to Speed Racer's characters. In a kids' cartoon, the presence of Speed's scampish, obnoxious little brother Spritle and his monkey sidekick can be overlooked (though not forgiven). I can even respect the Wachowskis' desire to be faithful to the source material. But in the translation from source to the big screen, it can actually be a favor to the original to downplay or cut out its negatives. The only comic relief Spritle provides is the hilarious delusion he's funny in the first place. Promoting him to second banana in an ostensible Hollywood blockbuster is a mistake of Jar Jar Binksian proportions.
The rest of the cast gets off marginally better. It's a pretty great ensemble (Hirsch, Allam, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, and Hiroyuki Sanada, among others), but I get the sense the Wachowskis frequently chose their most exaggerated line-readings. Goodman's got some depth as a protective but sensitive father. The others aren't much more than a bunch of guys who whose looks are infinitely more distinctive than their personalities.
Among other tricks in Speed Racer, the Wachowskis like to blend a scene with numerous flashbacks and flash-forwards, filling in past detail even as they lay out the implications of what's currently happening. It's an interesting technique, but it's confusing, too; the substance just can't keep up with the style. You could say as much about the whole movie. It looks like nothing else on earth, but as for all the rest -- its story, its people, its meaning -- they're just faces in the crowd.