For a pair of guys who made their bones with movies about pistol-packing lesbians (Bound) and gravity-defying kung fu (The Matrix), there's always been a puzzling air of Sturm und Drang around the work of the Wachowski Brothers, a sense of weightiness that undercuts the high-concept hang time of their ideas. Speed Racer, the duo's bazillion-dollar rendering of the cartoon beloved by 1960s kids and 1990s college stoners alike, is a... well, I don't know what the hell it is, to be honest. Freakishly perverse, this is an immense, Otter Pop–colored nostalgic thing that expends so much energy replicating every last widget and geegaw from its source that it forgets to be, you know, fun. While the wall-to-wall special effects are undeniably amazing, it also feels groundbreaking in another regard: For perhaps the first time in history, there exists a movie that cannot be saved with frequent cutaways to a monkey in overalls.

To be fair, the film's utter commitment to untethering the laws of live-action reality is really something to see... for about the first 10 minutes. Soon, though, the tendencies that began to make The Matrix series such a chore start rearing up—big chunks of indigestible monologue, screen savers posing as action scenes, and the overriding sense that the whole shebang was grown in a joyless lab. This plastic factor unfortunately extends to the cast, who all seem—with the very large exception of Matthew Fox, who perfectly nails the run-on monotone vocal stylings of the source material—too struck agog by the unreality of their surroundings to do much besides pose dumbfoundedly. There are a few scattered moments—a fistfight here, a post-race pose there, the bit where John Goodman body slams a ninja—where the whole frantic magic act works and the spirit of the show shines through. Pity about the other two hours, though.