Hollywood Product - Speed Racer

GENRE: Headache-inducing live-action cartoon

THE PITCH: Corporate conspirators (led by Roger Allam) raise roadblocks to hinder innately talented competitive driver Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) and his jumping hot rod, "the powerful Mach 5."

MONEY SHOTS: As a schoolboy, Speed imagines himself driving in a pencil-style cartoon. Some inventive Willy Wonka-type gags in a car factory. One dastardly driver catapults a beehive into another racer's car. Speed drives down and then up the sheer face of a frozen mountain. The leaping-car stunts should be spectacular, but they're so incoherently filmed and physically impossible that they all look alike.

FUNNIEST LINE: "More like a nonja," quips Pops Racer (John Goodman) after an inept ninja attack. Not that great, I know, but these are the jokes, folks.

WORST LINE: "You don't climb into a T-180 to be a driver; you do it because you're driven," the enigmatic Racer X (Matthew Fox) tells Speed. (Even when gas is $3.50 a gallon?)

BODY COUNT: The plot hinges on the tragic death of Speed's older brother Rex and whether Racer X is really Rex incognito. Some nasty jokes involve piranhas and fingers. High-tech safety measures make the fiery crashes implicitly harmless, but they're so confusingly explained, audiences may think they're fatal.

FASHION STATEMENTS: Mobsters wear crayon-colored zoot suits similar to 1990's Dick Tracy. Racer X looks kind of dumb in his leather suit and cap, both adorned with big Xs. At one point, Speed's grating younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) wears monkey-pattern pajamas, and the family chimp Chim-Chim wears matching boy-pattern PJs. Really, any piece of the clothing would be shockingly bright and garish in a normal film.

INSIDE JOKES: The oldest race announcer is Peter Fernandez, who provided some of the original voices in the American adaptation of the original 1960s anime TV show. Apparently the "M" on the Mach 5 originally stood for fictional "Mifune Motors," an homage to Seven Samurai actor Toshiro Mifune.

SOUNDTRACK FARE: Ali Dee and the Deekompressors provide a kicky version of the original cartoon theme for the closing credits. A lovely guitar version of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" accompanies an uncharacteristically quiet moment between Speed and girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci).

ANIMAL ANTICS: Speed Racer embraces the old-fashioned dumb fun of chimp-based comedy: Chim-Chim does kung fu, wears a tuxedo, eats candy, flings poo and makes double-takes. Chim-Chim also stars in a crazy end title sequence that's more enjoyable than the rest of the movie.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Speed advocates drinking milk at the finish line. Otherwise, the film's many products and corporations are almost all fictional, and you can appreciate Speed Racer denying itself a real-life revenue stream.

BETTER THAN THE CARTOON?: No. The anime series looks rudimentary these days, but still offers some brisk, clean pop art that would appeal to Roy Liechtenstein fans. For the film, The Wachowski brothers (creators of the Matrix movies) replace energetic simplicity with more than two hours of noisy, kaleidoscopic confusion.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Just because the Wachowskis can use computers to make an aggressively fake film environment that resembles a bad acid trip doesn't mean they should. Hirsch, Goodman, Ricci and Susan Sarandon (as Speed's mom) struggle to put some soul in the frenetic, lifeless proceedings that seem destined to cause seizures, or at least eyestrain. Play with your old Hot Wheels instead. 2 stars