Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D


Now there's an umbrella that would be useful in a flood.

Now there’s an umbrella that would be useful in a flood.

(2012) Adventure (Paramount) Erica Linz, Igor Zaripov, Lutz Halibhubner, John Clarke, Benedikt Negro, Dallas Barnett, Matt Gillanders, Tanya Drewery, Sarah Houbolt, Ascia Maybury, Damien Gordon, Zach Brickland, Iren Goed, Jason Berrent, Jeana Blackman. Directed by Andrew Adamson

In the past couple of decades the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil has elevated the traditional circus into something more graceful, more elegant and somewhat surreal. There is a definite European vibe to the Cirque with a bit of a Canadian twist – no animal acts, no sideshows, just graceful and athletic humans performing acts of physical contortion, aerial grace and demanding athleticism while wearing surreal costumes and make-up. Rather than a random collection of acts, each Cirque show has a theme and sometimes even a story that unifies all the acts and makes it an interesting whole.

Over the years the Cirque has spread to Las Vegas with as many as seven different shows playing at various casinos on the Strip. All of the shows were created by the Cirque in theaters largely designed by the Cirque in order to present breathtaking new feats of athleticism. Snippets from all seven shows are presented here, although none from any of the other permanent or touring Cirque shows, including La Nouba at Downtown Disney in Orlando which incidentally I haven’t seen – it’s kind of funny that things you’re willing to do as a tourist you won’t find the time or money for as a resident.

The story line is simple; Mia (Linz), a young waif, goes to a traditional circus where she catches the eye of an Aerialist (Zaripov). When the Aerialist falls from the trapeze during the show, the earth literally swallows him up. When Mia jumps from her seat to go aid the apple of her eye, she is also swallowed up and finds herself in this amazing, surreal universe. She is looking for her aerialist but nobody’s seen him. She passes from tent to tent, each containing an act or two from a different Cirque show. Eventually, she finds him and the two do a kind of aerial balletic courtship.

And that’s an hour and a half of your time, folks, all presented in eye-popping 3D courtesy of producer James Cameron who reportedly was testing some new systems for his upcoming Avatar sequels. For the record, you do get a much closer view of the Cirque performers doing their thing than the audience does. That’s not always a good thing – the costumes and make-up look a lot different from a distance than they do close-up.

Still, while the thematic elements that are part of what make the Cirque shows so compelling are kind of violated by this greatest hits compilation (as it were), it is the Cirque acts themselves that make the show worth seeing. Even close up with their harnesses and wires clearly in view, it doesn’t make what the performers do any less spectacular. Those who haven’t seen a Cirque show will be awed and have their breath taken away and admittedly a movie ticket, even with the 3D upcharge, is much less expensive than purchasing even the cheapest of Cirque tickets.

So as an introduction to the Vegas Cirque shows this gives you a fine overview (although the Elvis Presley themed “Viva Elvis” show at the Aria has since concluded it’s run) although with the caveat that it doesn’t compare to seeing these shows live, even with the advanced 3D. For those who have seen at least one of the Cirque shows this is going to come off like a 90 minute ad and that might not necessarily be what you’re looking for. I would have wished for a more compelling linking sequence and perhaps more elements that were not related to the Vegas shows. Perhaps someday the Cirque will see fit to create a movie that stands on its own with stunts and acts created specifically for the movie. Now that would definitely be worth seeing.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful music, some occasionally breathtaking acrobatics and a few imaginative sets.

REASONS TO STAY: Pretty much a 90 minute ad for the Vegas Cirque shows.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a little sensuality – nothing overt, as well as a few images that might the very young might find scary.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Each of the acts from the Vegas shows were filmed on the stages where they are performed.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100. The reviews are about as mixed as you can get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Where the Wild Things Are

CIRCUS LOVERS: The early scenes take place in a traditional big top tent and midway of a circus, although in keeping with Cirque du Soleil tradition no animal acts are shown.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Gravedancers

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil


Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

Hell’s Granny comes to town.

 

(2011) Animated Feature (Weinstein) Starring the voices of Hayden Panettiere, Glenn Close, Joan Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Patrick Warburton, Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, David Allen Grier, Andy Dick, Martin Short, Brad Garrett, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong. Directed by Mike Disa

 

There seems to be a reigning strategy in Hollywood that a successful original movie’s sequel can be made even more successful by adding 3D. This is of course regardless of whether 3D is necessary or annoying by its presence. It’s all just cash registers ringing up a higher sale.

The Happily Ever After Agency is back to business as usual. Nicky Flippers (Stiers), the froggy head of the agency, is doing without Red (Panettiere, taking over for Anne Hathaway) his best agency who is away for further training from the Sisters of the Hood, who achieve better Kung Fu thru baking. In order to get through them, though, she’s first got to best a somewhat arrogant troll (Grier).

Her partner Wolf (Warburton) and sidekick Twitchy the Squirrel are accompanying Granny (Close) on a rescue mission to retrieve Hansel (Hader) and Gretel (Poehler) from the clutches of the witch Verushka (Cusack). However, due to the incompetence of Wolf, the rescue goes sideways and Verushka escapes not only with her hostages but with Granny as well.

Red in the meantime discovers that the Sisters have created a recipe for a truffle that bestows ultimate power on the person who devours it. Only Granny knows the secret ingredient that makes the powers work, which was why she was kidnapped – Verushka, like Granny, having been a part of the sisterhood at one time. Red must forego further training and rescue Granny before she is forced to bake the unthinkable.

The first Hoodwinked was a surprise hit back in 2005 and a sequel was inevitable. While original director Cory Edwards remains on board, it is only as a producer, co-writer and the voice of Twitchy. In the director’s chair is Disa, a longtime animator getting his feature debut nod.

The animation is in many ways better – it is certainly brighter. Disa shows some imagination, particularly in the backgrounds of the fairy tale city. However, the whole fairy tale spoof thing that the first movie had in common with the Shrek franchise is wearing a little thin here. In all honesty we’ve seen it done elsewhere and better.

The main issue here is the 3D. It’s unnecessary most of the time – 3D tricks for their own sake – and frankly some of it is a little nausea-inducing. Obviously on a home video system, all of the 3D is lost unless you have a TV and Blu-Ray player with 3D capability and so it further illustrates some of the film’s deficiencies. I’m not a big fan of 3D for its own sake.

Still, some of the goofiness from the original is retained and the cast tries hard to maintain the mood -particularly Warburton, whose work as a voice actor (on TV shows like “The Tick” and “Family Guy”) have made him one of the best in the business, I think. Unfortunately, he’s not given a lot to do but to act kind of demented and stupid but Warburton makes a game effort of it.

This is a movie that could have used a bit more cleverness and a bit less pizzazz. Sure, it’s going to keep kids reasonably entertained but discerning kids are going to watch this once and likely not turn back again while their parents are going to flee the room as soon as their rugrats are plopped down in front of the TV. It may make for a decent enough rental but as a purchase it probably isn’t the kind of investment that Jim Cramer would recommend.

WHY RENT THIS: Just enough goofiness to make this worthwhile.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Relies far too much on 3D effects that are lost if you don’t have a 3D system.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some mildly rude humor and a bit of cartoon action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s release was delayed more than a year while Weinstein resolved a lawsuit brought on by the production company. 

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a trio of music videos.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17.0M on a $30M production budget; the movie was a box office failure.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Happily N’Ever After

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Chernobyl Diaries

Hugo


Hugo

Time flies when you're making a Scorsese film.

(2011) Family (Paramount) Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emil Lager. Directed by Martin Scorsese

 

Our dreams guide us, sometimes into odd territories. We can be spirited away to fantastic landscapes or sent hurtling back into our own memories, into our own past. Dreams are the lenses through which we view reality.

Hugo Cabret (Butterfield) lives in the cavernous Montparnasse train station through a set of tragic circumstances. He fixes the clocks and makes sure that they are running on time – important work for a train station, particularly in Paris in the early 1930s.

He didn’t always live this way. He once lived with his father, a clockmaker, who had discovered an automaton (a kind of early robot) while doing some work in a museum. His father had attempted to fix the machine but now it was up to Hugo to get the thing to work. He is convinced that the automaton carries some sort of message from his father and in order to fix it, pilfers parts from a grumpy toymaker named Georges (Kingsley).

Hugo is also trying to stay one step ahead of the station inspector, one Inspector Gustav (Cohen). Gustav, who has an eye on pretty flower girl Lisette (Mortimer), was injured in the War and wears a mechanical leg brace to allow him to walk in a kind of shuffling gait. It freezes up from time to time and Gustav must move it manually, causing him a great deal of humiliation. Gustav relies on a Doberman to help him patrol the station where he regularly catches orphans like Hugo to send them to the orphanage. Hugo knows if Gustav catches him, the automaton will be taken away and he’ll never find out what his father was trying to tell him.

Aiding Hugo in his quest is Isabelle (Moretz), the goddaughter of the toymaker who is being raised by Papa Georges and his wife Jeanne (McCrory). Isabelle is a plucky sort who can relate to the intense and somewhat shell-shocked Hugo. She loves a good mystery and yearns for a good adventure of her own. She spends most of her time reading books lent to her by the kindly bookseller Labisse (Lee).

The automaton has all the parts it needs but lacks a heart-shaped key to fit a heart-shaped lock that will wind up the mechanism and get it working. Hugo must find that key and in the discovery of it will find out that the magic of movies, which he attended with his father, was far more ephemeral than he thought and that fame is even more fleeting than that. He will also discover a key to Papa Georges’ past and a path to his own future.

The movie is based on an illustrated novel by Brian Selznick called The Invention of Hugo Cabret and marks Scorsese’s first foray into family films as well as his first 3D movie. Once again the great director has hit a home run.

The setting is amazing. Much of Hugo’s world revolves around the inner workings of the clocks of the station, so there are gears and cogs aplenty. The train station itself recalls the romance of train travel of the era much as Murder on the Orient Express did. Labisse’s bookshop is a magical repository of imagination and knowledge, much larger than you’d expect to find at a train station.

Much of the movie rests on thin shoulders of Butterfield and Moretz. Moretz is one of the better actresses of her generation, with films like Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer to her credit. She has a role that requires her to be the kind of English plucky heroine that have overpopulated film and literary franchises like The Chronicles of Narnia‘s Susan Pevensey and Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger. Moretz gives the role a little bit more soul and humanity than you might expect.

Butterfield has amazing blue eyes and has received some criticism for his role for not expressing a lot of emotion. Personally, I think that was the perfect way to play the part. With all the things Hugo has gone through to this point, I think it would be natural for him to be a bit shell-shocked and plenty wary about expressing his emotions as he’s had so much taken away from him and so many people leave him. In the film’s final scenes he seems to finally be showing some joy and love and for my money it’s a terrific performance. Phooey on the critics who say different.

Ben Kingsley is, well, Ben Kingsley. We all know he is one of the great actors of the past 20 years, going back to his scintillating performance as Gandhi. He inhabits the role of Georges with dignity and a hidden reservoir of pain. I think it’s one of his best performances ever, one that should merit some awards consideration although thus far it hasn’t.

A word about the 3D. Generally I’m not one to recommend 3D to anyone – it rarely enhances the movie and more often than not, detracts from it, forcing viewers to look at a cinema screen through polarized sunglasses which does nothing for the brightness and the color of the film. However, here the movie actually benefits from the 3D which opens up Hugo’s world and makes it more lifelike and real. This is one of those rare times when I’d urge those of you going to see the movie to see it in 3D if you can. It’s well worth the upcharge for once.

The movie obviously has a direct connection to a soft spot in Scorsese’s heart. His passion for the preservation of old films is well-known and you can almost feel the pain in the great filmmaker’s soul when he talks about how the celluloid from old silent film were melted down to make the heels in ladies boots. Through Hugo we get to experience a time when movies were new and nobody quite knew what to do with them. While I won’t reveal the plot point that takes Hugo Cabret from automatons to motion pictures, I will say that film buffs and history buffs will be pleasantly surprised by the turn the movie makes. Be wary though – other reviews tell you precisely what that turn is and since I hadn’t read any before seeing the movie, I found the turn to be more effective.

All in all, this is a delightful motion picture, one full of fantasy and clearly a labor of love. Even the villains of the piece aren’t all bad – they have just had some hard times. It’s a bit on the long side – if your children are fidgety you might want to take that into account – however this is a terrific family movie that the kids may actually enjoy less than their parents; but the kids should like it a lot.

REASONS TO GO: Generally raises an air of wonder and magic. Terrific performances all around. Fantastic sets realistically depict Paris of the early 30s but also lend an air of fantasy.

REASONS TO STAY: Might be a little too long for fidgety sorts.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild violence, children put in peril and of course, smoking. Fiendish!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The automaton is based on actual machines that draw similarly complex drawings, complete with head movements and eyes following their own drawing except the real ones were built in the 18th century – they can be seen at the Musee D’Art et d’Histoire of Neuchatel in Switzerland.

HOME OR THEATER: I never thought I’d say this but not only do I recommend seeing this in a theater, but it should also be seen in 3D.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Agora

Saw 3D


Saw 3D
Betsy Russell goes on the Saw workout with remarkable results.

(2010) Horror (Lionsgate) Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Sean Patrick Flanery, Chad Donella, Gina Holden, Laurence Anthony, Dean Armstrong, Naomi Snieckus, Rebecca Marshall, James van Patten, Anne Greene. Directed by Kevin Greutert

This is a film that visibly demonstrates the virtues of leaving while you’re on top. But the question is, is this franchise doing that or going out with a whimper?

Again, because of the possibility of spoilers for previous films in the series that you may not have seen and might want to (trust me, the series goes down a bit better if you know the mythology front to back). The apprentice of Jigsaw (Bell) has escaped the trap of Jigsaw’s wife (Russell) who now goes to the police in the person of Detective Matt Gibson (Donella).

In the meantime the apprentice is setting his sights on Bobby Dagen (Flanery), a survivor from a previous Jigsaw trap who has written a self-help book on the subject and has become the flavor of the week more or less. In the meantime, the police once again think they’re closing in – but when the fur flies, the body count will rise and the end comes thanks to a surprise character from the first movie who turns out to be the most surprising twist of all.

Greutert, who had hoped to direct Paranormal Activity 2 but was forced to direct this due to a contractual obligation, continues the formula that has sustained this series through seven films and the wear and tear is beginning to show. There is nothing here that really differentiates it from the other films in the series.

Part of my issue with the film is that there was never much doubt about what the outcome was going to be with each individual trap. Greutert would ratchet up the suspense but then well, you get the picture. This happens with each and every trap without fail. It would have been nice if there had been at least a smidgeon of a possibility that someone would get away but by the last few traps it was just a matter of waiting for the damn thing to go off.

The cast here is solid as always, although as with all the Saw films after the third one, it sorely misses Jigsaw as a contemporary force. Like the last three movies, the seventh movie only shows Jigsaw in flashback and thus the movie is robbed of its most interesting character. Elwes, the best-known of the cast, reprises his role from the first film in what is essentially an extended cameo. He looks a little embarrassed to be there, to be honest. Hope the paycheck was good.

Props must be given to the producers for not going the cheap route and doing this in 3D conversion; it’s actually filmed in 3D and the effects for such are pretty amazing. However be aware that those 3D home video sets that use the darker glasses, the movie is pretty dimly lit to begin with and you might have trouble seeing some of the things going on.

I admit there is a vicarious thrill in watching people get offed in such fiendishly clever ways, and usually the victims deserve their fates although the two-timing wench from the movie’s prologue might have received a somewhat extreme punishment for her crime. Still, the franchise has undoubtedly run out of steam and while seeing the surviving victims from past movies come together in a support group session was one of the movie’s highlights, this is definitely a series that is ready to at the very least take a long break and regroup, if not sail off into the sunset altogether.

WHY RENT THIS: Lots of blasts from the past. This is supposed to conclude the franchise so if you followed it this far…

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a very satisfying conclusion and a bit of a letdown. The traps lack any kind of suspense.

FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and blood and torture and bad language but no sexuality to speak of.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was the second straight film in the series to feature a winner of the “Scream Queens” reality television series in a featured role; Gabby West here, Tanedra Howard (who also appears here) in Saw VI.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition has a featurette on every trap from every film in the series – all 52 of them.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $136.2M on a $20M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Six Days of Darkness concludes!

The Final Destination


The Final Destination 3D

Some of the cast hopes this movie won't be the high point of their careers.

(New Line) Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Nick Zano, Haley Webb, Mykelti Williamson, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella, Justin Welborn, Stephanie Honore, Lara Grice. Directed by David R. Ellis

The Final Destination film series has made bank on a simple premise which has been repeated over and over again for the first three films of the series. The fourth one, which features no number in the title which might confuse moviegoers or DVD renters with the first film of the series which had the same title minus the “The”, is no different in that sense.

Teenager – in this case Nick O’Bannon (Campo) – gets a premonition of a horrific disaster, this time at a NASCAR race. He urges his companions to leave immediately, causing some consternation and ill feelings. However, all concerned are quickly relieved when the disaster happens exactly as foretold. The survivors are then picked off one by one in a series of increasingly graphic and elaborate “accidents” which have some kind of supernatural assistance. Surviving teens race against time to change the order of the death sequence and stop the carnage.

The whole trick to the movie working is how well the death scenes work and under the stewardship of director Ellis (who previously helmed the second film in the series, as well as Snakes on a Plane) they do most satisfactorily, ranging from a death by air conditioning unit to a death by pool filter (trust me, it works). It’s kind of ghoulish to be seeing a movie to watch a parade of people being turned into hamburger by a variety of means, but at least the filmmakers understand the point; one of the characters is pointedly criticized for going to a racetrack so that he might see a car crash. It’s really the same principle here.

The acting here is fair to middling, and sometimes not even that. The whole point of the movie is to filet whoever is next in line and so I’m fairly sure the producers weren’t worrying about acting chops so much. “I did Hamlet for my local Shakespearean company.” “That’s nice kid, now let’s hear  you scream.”

In all honesty I can’t really differentiate between this and other films in the series all that much. Quite frankly, they all kind of blend together and had I not seen this one recently, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to tell you which execution takes place in which film. I suppose at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.

So basically, the whole thing is this; if you like the series, you won’t walk away disappointed with the latest one. You might even get your thrill on because this is the first one to be in 3D, so the body parts and sharp pointy objects come flying at you more realistically I suppose. However, be warned if the previous three movies of the series haven’t floated your boat much, neither will this.

WHY RENT THIS: This is more of the same; if you liked the first three films, you’ll like this one.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is more of the same; if you hated the first three films, you’ll hate this one too.

FAMILY VALUES: While there is some sexuality, there is a lot more violence of the sort that has become synonymous with this series. In other words, don’t invite the small fries to sit through this one if you don’t want years of therapy to follow!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film in the series not to feature Tony Todd in a supporting role.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $186M on a $40M production budget; the movie was a big hit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Punisher: War Zone

G-Force


G-Force

All things considered, maybe lab testing comestics wouldn't have been so bad.

(Disney) Zach Galifianakis, Nicolas Cage (voice), Bill Nighy, Sam Rockwell (voice), Penelope Cruz (voice), Will Arnett, Jon Favreau (voice), Steve Buscemi (voice), Tracy Morgan (voice), Kelli Garner. Directed by Hoyt Yeatman

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer can be counted upon for loud, action-laden movies with plenty of special effects. So how would he fare with a kid’s movie?

The G-Force is comprised of leader Darwin (Rockwell), commandos Blaster (Morgan) and Juarez (Cruz), computer expert Speckles (Cage) and surveillance expert Mooch. The difference is, not a one of them is a human being; the first three are guinea pigs (and please don’t refer to them as hamsters, it offends them), Speckles is a mole and Mooch is a housefly.

They are the result of a government experiment by FBI nerd Ben (Galifianakis) who has given them the means to communicate with humans. Outfitting them with all sorts of high tech gear, they break into the house of billionaire appliance maker Leonard Saber (Nighy) to find some evidence of nefarious criminal activity.

When all they find is the blueprint for a new coffeemaker, straight-arrow Agent Killian (Arnett) shuts down the team and the animals are dispersed to a pet store. However, Darwin is certain that Saber is up to no good and he knows there is a 48 hour deadline before something really, really bad happens. His mission is to break out of the pet store with new flatulent friend Hurley (Favreau) with the help of psychotic part-ferret Bucky (Buscemi), find out what Saber is up to and save the day. He’ll have to avoid the FBI and their humorless agents who are chasing them, but they have turbocharged hamster balls (of the sort that Rhino used in Bolt) to elude their pursuers.

This is all in silly fun, and those who come to the theater looking for logic and plot or going to be tearing out their hair. Director Yeatman has a couple of visual effects Oscars to his name (one for technical achievement) and does a pretty decent job here, pacing the thing like you’d expect for a Bruckheimer movie – non-stop action with little pause for gathering ones wits.

The voice acting is credible, although Cage goes for the silly voice award of 2009. His nasal, Midwestern-accented take for Speckles is hysterical. Cruz goes for a bit of sex appeal and elevates her character above the typical Latina marine we’ve seen in cliché after cliché since Aliens. Tracy Morgan goes the ghetto route and comes off as kind of a cut-rate Chris Rock.

The live characters are pretty good, too – Nighy is always interesting, even when doing characters that are essentially boring and Arnett plays up the ramrod-stiff Killian to the point of ridiculousness which was certainly his intention.

The filmmakers are shooting for a pre-teen demographic, so there is a surfeit of fart jokes and robots – the global “threat” turns out to be giant robots made up of household appliances that apparently plan to stomp the human race out of existence. Me, I’d just wait ‘em out until their warranties expire.

Still, this is essentially safe and harmless fun that will keep most of your kids more than happy. The younger ones will coo over the lovable furry critters while the older ones will ooh and ahh over the cool robots that are a bit of a sly jab at the Transformers. There is certainly a dumb factor here – those who appreciate kids movies that don’t talk down to kids and treat them like they actually have brains are going to be sorely disappointed in G-Force but those who are looking just for something to keep their kids occupied and out of their hair for an hour or two will be quite satisfied.

Hmm, a kid’s movie that doesn’t pander to kids and treats them with intelligence. Locating a movie like that might be a job that even the G-Force can’t handle.

WHY RENT THIS: Harmless, mindless family film fun.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not what you’d call snappy dialogue or smart plotting. The preposterous meter is off the scale.

FAMILY VALUES: G-Force is suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Ferris wheel shown in the film is located on the island of Okinawa in Japan in a shopping and entertainment district called American Village.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a notable featurettes on super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and also an interesting feature on how the germination for the idea behind G-Force came from director Yeatman’s pre-teen son.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Pontypool

Shrek Forever After


Shrek Forever After

Rumpelstiltskin is hacked off when he finds out this isn't The Incredible Hulk.

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kathy Griffin, Craig Robinson, Walt Dohrn, Jane Lynch, Lake Bell, Mary Kay Place, Meredith Vieira, Ryan Seacrest, Larry King, Regis Philbin, Kristen Schaal. Directed by Mike Mitchell

One of the great ironies of life is that we rarely appreciate what we have until it’s gone, even when we are fully aware that we have everything we want. This is true of people and also true of ogres.

Shrek (Myers) has everything; a wife who loves him madly, three cute little ogre kids and good friends. Still, he is beginning to reach a bit of a mid-life crisis. He has lost his inner ogre-ness; no longer is he scaring villagers with his mighty roar. In fact, his ogre roar has become a party trick. He spends more time changing diapers than relaxing in his mud pit. To add insult to injury, tour buses stop regularly by his house to watch him stomp into his outhouse. It’s humiliating.

After an argument with his wife Fiona (Diaz) at their son’s first birthday party Shrek finds himself wondering what his life would be like if he hadn’t rescued his wife from the Dragon’s Keep all those years ago. This is overheard by Rumpelstiltskin (Dohrn), an evil little wizard who specializes in magical agreements that carry with them terrible consequences.

He offers Shrek the opportunity to return to being an ogre for a day. In exchange, he wants one day from Shrek’s childhood, one that Shrek would never remember. Shrek, after some initial misgivings, agrees.

He is whisked away via magical maelstrom to the village, where he enjoys terrorizing the villagers and their livestock and pets, and wallowing in the mud. Things are going swimmingly and he is enjoying his inner ogre again, but when he goes home he discovers his home is deserted. His friend Donkey (Murphy) doesn’t know him, and Far Far Away has a new king – Rumpelstiltskin.

It turns out that the evil little munchkin had taken the day Shrek was born, which means that when his 24 hours end, Shrek will cease to exist. In fact, in this reality, he’d never been born, so nobody knows who he is. It’s sort of a twisted It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the meantime, Fiona has become the leader of a rebel underground, the proud owner of a now fat, sassy and lazy Puss in Boots (Banderas). Her right hand man is a lantern-jawed ogre named Brogan (Hamm). And she has no time or sympathy for crazy stories about magical agreements and alternate realities. The only thing that can save Shrek and restore the world to as it should be is what freed Fiona in the first place – true love’s kiss. This time, however, Fiona doesn’t know Shrek and how can she love someone she doesn’t know?

This is billed as the final film in the series and there is a bit of an air of closure here. Director Mike Mitchell gets to rearrange Shrek’s universe pretty much as he will, but really doesn’t do much with it. One of the trademarks of the Shrek series is the number of pop culture references skewered, but strangely Mitchell chooses to rein that in, preferring to spend more time developing the story. That’s a mixed blessing. Mitchell is taking a chance which gives him points with me, and marks this movie as a bit different than any other entry in the franchise – but at the expense of some of the characteristics that made these movies so special to begin with.

Dohrn is a bit of a revelation here. He worked on the previous Shrek the Third as a writer, story artist and voice actor. He has a more pivotal role here and works it nicely, a bit of a cross between Wallace Shawn in The Princess Bride and Jason Lee in The Incredibles. Rumpelstiltskin may well turn out to be the best villain in the Shrek franchise, right up there with Lord Farquaad and the Fairy Godmother.

At its best, Shrek Forever After is as good as anything in the four Shrek movies. However, the movie suffers from being a bit uneven; the moments of genuine hilarity are a bit rarer than in previous efforts and when the movie isn’t at the top of its game, it’s actually a little flat. That lack of consistency is often frustrating.

Don’t get me wrong. The movie has plenty of charm, and fans of Shrek are not going to be disappointed with this. It’s certainly much better than Shrek the Third. Unfortunately, it is far too uneven to rank with the first two movies of the series which may not be the fitting send-off that the series deserves, although again, there are moments that make for quite a graceful exit.

For me, Shrek should be irreverent, funny to both kids and adults and this one doesn’t have those elements to the same degree as Shrek and Shrek 2. It does have enough of those items to allow me to recommend the movie, although if you go in with high expectations you’ll probably be disappointed. I find the best I can do here is damn the movie with faint praise. If you don’t have kids who will absolutely drive you crazy if you don’t take them to see it, you might well wait for this to come out on video and see Toy Story 3 when it comes out instead.

REASONS TO GO: There’s a goodly amount of charm and some of the moments here are among the best in the series.  

REASONS TO STAY: The movie is somewhat uneven and leaves one with the impression that the series has run out of ideas.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a smattering of cartoon violence and some scatological humor but otherwise suitable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dohrn, in addition to voicing Rumpelstiltskin is also credited as being “Head of Story.”

HOME OR THEATER: 3D didn’t add a whole lot to the movie; this would be fine at the multiplex but really, home video would do this just as proud.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Away We Go