Independence Day: Resurgence


Jeff Goldblum realizes it was a mistake to read the reviews.

Jeff Goldblum realizes it was a mistake to read the reviews.

(2016) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Patrick St. Esprit, Vivica A. Fox, Angelababy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Deobia Oparei, Nicolas Wright, Travis Tope, Chin Han, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Robert Loggia, John Storey, Joey King. Directed by Roland Emmerich

 

“If you’ve seen one alien invasion, you’ve seen them all.” That may not be an aphorism in Hollywood, but it damn well should be. Ever since the original Independence Day back in 1996, there have been a plethora of invasion flicks of technologically superior aliens trying to rid our planet of its native population and steal its resources for themselves, which sounds an awful lot like a metaphor for colonialism if you ask me.

In Independence Day: Resurgence, twenty years have passed since the last alien invasion failed. Technology scavenged from fallen ships has pushed our own technology far ahead, allowing us to rebuild more quickly and even expand our presence with a modern defense station on the moon. Daniel Levinson (Goldblum) is now in charge of defensive strategies for the planet, which has united after nearly having been annihilated. He believes, like most of the planet’s leadership, that the aliens will be back and we’ve been preparing for twenty years for the inevitability of that fact.

Former President Whitmore (Pullman) is visited regularly by his daughter Patricia (Monroe) who is now an aide to current President Lanford (Ward). Like her dad, Patricia is an ex-fighter pilot. She’s also engaged to hotshot maverick fighter Jake Morrison (Hemsworth) who was exiled to the moon after clipping the wing of the fighter jet of golden boy Dylan Hiller (Usher), son of the late Stephen Hiller, the hero of the War of 1996. The three of them had been close friends but were now leading separate lives. Those lives are about to get a whole lot different.

Because the aliens are back and this time they’ve brought a Mothership the size of a continent. When it lands in the Atlantic Ocean, it covers the entire ocean. The aliens, aware of what happened to the last invasion, are mad as hell and want to finish us off, something having to do with taking the molten core of the planet and using it for fuel. Dr. Brakish Okun (Spiner), who’s been in a coma since his own close encounter with an alien, awakens and has some ideas for saving the Earth (although we get to see a little bit more of his hind end than we ever wanted to) but some of those may well have to wait for the sequel that will one day come. ID4 Part 3 anybody?

There are those in Hollywood who believe that the secret to a great sequel is more of what was in the original, and that sums up this film in a nutshell. Emmerich has, justly or unjustly, gotten a reputation of delivering spectaculars with plenty of destruction but not a lot of thought in the plot department. Here, again, there are things in the story that anyone with even basic knowledge of science will roll their eyes over. For one thing, something that big landing in the Atlantic would send tsunamis that would essentially drown every coast on that ocean, as well as send enough steam and vapor into the air to cause a nuclear winter. Having something that size impact the Earth might also have consequences in terms of knocking the planet off axis. Keep in mind that a much smaller object impacting the Earth may have caused an extinction level event. Even at reduced speeds, the Mothership would have killed half the population of the planet off in an instant just by landing here gently; and they wouldn’t need to land gently to get what they’re after. It would actually be in their best interests to deliberately knock the planet off its axis; it would make their task easier.

It is a hoot to see Goldblum, Pullman, Spiner and Hirsch back in roles that we identify them with, and all of them make the most of their return. Goldblum and Pullman get the lion’s share of time, but Spiner and Hirsch are effective in their supporting roles. The “new kids;” Hemsworth, Usher and Monroe mainly are a little flat; none of them individually or collectively can replace Smith who really made the first film more fun with his swagger and his comic timing, as well as his action chops. Smith reportedly asked for $50 million to sign on here; I’m wondering if it might not have been worth it for Fox to give him what he wanted.

The special effects are, as you can doubtlessly imagine, spectacular although like much that is in this film, much along the same lines as what you saw in ID4. Monuments and icons get destroyed. People flee in terror down streets choked with cars. Dogs get saved. Catchphrases get uttered. Hordes of fighter craft engage the enemy. And as an added attraction, we get to meet the alien Queen. Note to Ellen Ripley on that one; you’re going to need a bigger boat.

This is what I would consider decent summer entertainment; no more and no less. The script is a bit lame-brained but I don’t think anyone is expecting David Mamet here. The effects are more than equal to the task, but they don’t really set the bar any higher; once you blow up the White House (as they did in the first film) the sight of famous places getting destroyed doesn’t really do much for a savvy audience. In short, this is a time-waster that is perfect fodder for shutting your brain off, drinking an ice cold soda, stuffing your face with popcorn and candy and escaping the summer heat for a couple of hours.

REASONS TO GO: Impressive visuals as always. It’s a hoot to see Goldblum, Hirsch, Spiner and Pullman still at the top of their games.
REASONS TO STAY: Plot riddled with holes of logic and science. A bloated and often incomprehensible plot is not helped by the absence of Will Smith.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of destruction (they always go for the landmarks), plenty of violence, some profanity and a couple of disturbing alien images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Seven actors reprised their roles from the original; the part of President Whitmore’s daughter Patricia was recast from Mae Whitman in the original to Maika Monroe here because Whitman isn’t conventionally pretty met with outrage on the Internet. Also, Will Smith (whose salary demands were rejected by the studio) appears as a portrait in the White House.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/16/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 32% positive reviews. Metacritic: 32/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Battleship
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Free State of Jones

Event Horizon


You know only bad things can happen in a place like this.

You know only bad things can happen in a place like this.

(1997) Sci-Fi Horror (Paramount) Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, Peter Marinker, Holley Chant, Barclay Wright, Noah Huntley, Robert Jezek, Emily Booth, Teresa May. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Sci-Fi Spectacle

The trouble with exploration is the unknown. We don’t always know what’s out there. We may have a good idea, sure but when you go out into the real unknown, it’s just that. Anything could be lurking out there. And it might just hitch a ride back.

In 2040, mankind makes the first great push beyond our solar system. The great ship Event Horizon, powered by the gravity drive, makes its way out to Neptune to truly begin its journey. The gravity drive manufactures a black hole and slips the ship through, allowing it to travel great distances – to any star in any galaxy. The Event Horizon powers up the gravity drive, hits the go switch – and disappears. Nobody hears a peep and the ship is presumed lost.

Seven years later it reappears as suddenly as it disappeared. Attempts to hail her yield nothing. A rescue ship, the Lewis and Clark is sent, commanded by the redoubtable Captain Miller (Fishburne). Along for the ride is Dr. Weir (Neill), the man who invented the gravity drive and has the best shot at figuring out what went wrong.

Once they arrive in the outer atmosphere of Neptune the mile-long vessel is as silent as the grave and unutterably cold inside. There is still power – it’s just not turned on. When Miller and his crew come aboard to see what’s happened, they find the video log mostly intact although it cuts off an instant after the drive engages. There are also disquieting signs of a violent end for the crew – bloodstains indicating that crew members sustained fatal and horrifying wounds – but no bodies.

As the rescue ship crew attempts to restore power so that the ship may be towed home for further examination, the crew begins to see strange things – hallucinations of people and places they know. It becomes clear to Captain Miller that wherever the Event Horizon went to, it has brought something back with it. And that something may be more deadly than outer space itself.

This is one of those movies that didn’t do well during its theatrical run and then acquired its audience through cable and home video. Savaged by critics when it was released, who compared it unfavorably with the classic Solaris – as unfair as it is inaccurate – the movie has become something of a cult favorite. One of the big issues that fans have with it is that it isn’t the movie that Anderson wanted to make. Rushed during the post-production process, the studio put immense pressure on Anderson –  who was making just his third feature film – to make its August 15, 1997 release date. Anderson did get the film ready for its release date but had to make a lot of studio-insisted cuts and felt that had he been given enough time to finish the movie properly would have come up with something superior. Fans have been clamoring for some time for a director’s cut version which Anderson doesn’t seem disposed to doing.

The truth is, this is actually a superior sci-fi horror flick that may be the best thing Anderson has directed to date (he’s also done four movies in the Resident Evil series as well as Death Race). Moody, atmospheric and grim, he has created a movie every bit as scary as the original Alien and even surpasses that film in some ways. Initially the audience is led towards thinking that the carnage aboard the Event Horizon is the work of some interstellar beastie but as the film wears on we discover that the destination can be a killer.

Fishburne, a couple of years before his signature role as Morpheus in The Matrix, is magnificent here as the taciturn and square-jawed Miller. As no-nonsense a commander as you’re likely to find on any space opera, he inspires confidence and despite some inner demons of his own is the kind of guy you’d follow to hell and back.

Neill recalls his villainy as Damien in The Omen: The Final Chapter which established the Australian actor in the United States to a great extent. Weir is tightly wound and maybe a few bricks shy of a load in the sanity department. The minute he gets aboard his baby, things begin to spiral out of control. Neill takes the character from cool, calm scientist to baleful madman in a believable way.

The ship is a character all its own with its silent corridors and empty rooms to the engine room with the gravity drive itself which looks a little bit of a cross between the Contact craft and a mechanical nightmare dreamed up by H.P. Lovecraft – that’s it in the photo accompanying this review. It looks suitably futuristic and scary as hell at the same time.

While the dialogue is somewhat stilted and there is a derivative quality to the film that is what set critics and some fans off during its initial run (Alien anybody?) the movie is nonetheless one of the finest sci-fi horror films ever made and a truly underrated classic. If you saw it and didn’t like it, it is worth coming back to and if you haven’t seen it, it is worth a look. As we enter the Halloween season, this is one of those movies that can get you right in the mood to have the heebie jeebies scared out of you – or into you. Like the great ship itself, the scares you get out of this movie are very well the same ones that are already in you – just waiting for the right vessel to release them.

WHY RENT THIS: Great atmosphere! Fishburne at his best, Neill at his creepiest.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Dialogue is a bit weak and some of the movie feels like we’ve seen it before.
FAMILY MATTERS:  Lots of gore and violence, a fair amount of cursing and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script went through 65 drafts, which is a highly unusual number. Most feature films go from anywhere from two or three drafts to a dozen.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Collector’s Edition DVD has some amazing storyboards for scenes not shot, as well as plenty of making-of footage. The Blu-Ray edition has all this but adds a section on the post-production difficulties that resulted in the filmmakers having to release a movie that wasn’t quite up to their expectations.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.1M on a $60M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Stream), Amazon (rent/buy – free to stream for Prime members), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pandorum
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle concludes!

Piranha 3DD


Piranha 3DD

It’s The Hoff’s world; we’re just living in it.

(2012) Horror (Dimension) Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, Chris Zylka, David Koechner, Meagan Tandy, David Hasselhoff, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, Clu Gallagher, Gary Busey, Adrian Martinez, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Paul James Jordan, Katrina Bowden, Hector Jimenez, Paul Scheer. Directed by John Gulager

 

A proven formula for box office success has been blood, boobs and 3D. It worked well for Piranha 3D. Would it work as well for the sequel?

It is a year after the events of the first film and Lake Victoria is a ghost town, abandoned and largely a cautionary tale, a subject for solemn-sounding news features (although I have to admit that the documentary images of Lake Victoria make the town look abandoned for thirty years rather than the one year referenced in the narration). The prehistoric piranha with a taste for human flesh are still out there but where? I think we can guess.

A nearby water park has come under new management. Marine biology student Maddy (Panabaker) is a 49% owner in the park after the death of her mom, but the 51% is owned by Chet (Koechner), a sleazy promoter who’s out to turn the family waterpark into a kind of permanent Girls Gone Wild attraction called The Big Wet appealing strictly to the hormonal and the perverted and making sure everybody knows it with a series of tawdry adds with plenty of nudge-wink double entendres. Maddy is understandably perturbed about this turn of events but can do nothing to stop it.

She’s too busy canoodling with Deputy Kyle (Zylka), an arrogant preppy sort who seems to be way off from the type of guys you’d think a down-to-earth scientific type like Maddy would be into but I suppose the message here is never underestimate what a pair of dreamy eyes, a handsome face and a banging bod will do to make a woman’s knees weak and her heart melt. In the meantime nebbish Barry (Bush) pines for Maddy (he has since high school) and works as a mascot for the water park although he can’t swim and is terrified of the water – as it turns out for good reason.

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. There is a kind of underlying lightheartedness that makes me think that the filmmakers didn’t take themselves too seriously with this one – in a good way. Gulager has some underground horror film cred with the Feast trilogy and he proves himself worthy of a larger budget and a major studio release.

I liked that the movie had kind of an 80s vibe to it, although not overtly set in that era. There’s a certain amount of playfulness that was very endemic to the era, not to mention a lack of inhibitions when it came to actresses taking off their tops. There was also a lack of inhibition when it came to gore back then and Gulager doesn’t flinch when it comes to that either.

The movie doesn’t look as murky as the first one did; the producers saw to it that the movie was filmed in 3D rather than converting in post-production which usually yields a much clearer and cleaner image. However, it remains largely a gimmicky effect and to my eye didn’t really enhance the movie much, although admittedly I didn’t see it in a theater (more on that in a minute).

There are a handful of veteran actors with varying degrees of name value in the cast to go along with the largely unknown but plucky young cast. Of the latter, Panabaker has got a few good credits to her name, including a turn in John Carpenters The Ward in which she was one of the film’s acting highlights. Here she’s solid but unspectacular in the smart girl heroine role. For the cameos, Hasselhoff makes the best use, playing himself and referencing his public intoxication arrest from a few years ago to skewer his “Baywatch” image and prove that he might not be a bad sport after all. Rhames and Lloyd reprise their roles from the first film and gleefully overact, while Busey shows up to be fish food in the first reel in what might be a signature of the movie; killing off a well-known actor in the first reel (Richard Dreyfus did the honors in the first film).

The fish, a mixture of CGI and practical effects, are never really convincing. The CGI looks like CGI and the practical effects look like rubber fish being bludgeoned with rocks and filled with air bladders and blood bags. Still, the cheesy factor of the effects may also be a deliberate nod to the era, so you can take it in the spirit given.

Dimension (the genre division of Weinstein) took the interesting step of releasing this on Video On-Demand on the same day the movie got a limited release in theaters, a strategy that has worked well for major indies Magnolia and IFC. I don’t know how the movie is faring in VOD rentals but the box office numbers are weak. Whether this is the wave of the future for releases that aren’t expected to be box office bonanzas remains to be seen.

I’ve read reviewers who have said that this works much better on the big screen than on the home screen and I can see where that might be the case. This is definite exploitation fun that probably appeals most to the young male crowd and those who want to hang out with them. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but in all honesty for what it is, it really isn’t that bad at all.

REASONS TO GO: Retains a sense of fun. Hoff, Rhames and Lloyd are good sports.

REASONS TO STAY: The dumb factor is pretty high. Gore and CGI are unconvincing and 3D more gimmicky than anything else

FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? Lots of swearing, a pretty fair amount of gore, plenty of bare breasts, some sexuality and some male nudity. And drug use. And teen drinking. And…

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally set to be filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during January and February 2011 but this proved to be impractical due to the cold weather and clothing restrictions for the actors; production was moved to Wilmington, North Carolina but resulted in a delay from the original November 2011release date to June of this year.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews. Metacritic: 24/100. The reviews are nearly universally bad.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shark Night

TOPLESS WOMEN LOVERS: The water park has an adult pool where women may swim topless. Yes, there are a whole lot of boobs. No, none of the main actresses show theirs.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Speed Racer

Deep Blue Sea


Deep Blue Sea
Thomas Jane is slightly overmatched.

(1999) Action Thriller (Warner Brothers) Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgard, LL Cool J, Aida Turturro, Cristos, Daniel Bahimo Rey, Valente Rodriguez, Brent Roam, Eyal Podell, Erinn Bartlett. Directed by Renny Harlin

Several years ago, Hollywood churned out three movies in a row – Deep Star Six, Leviathan and The Abyss – that all featured a claustrophobic monster hunt in a cramped undersea station environment. Of those only the latter had any merit as James Cameron, pre-Titanic, got to work out his aquatic fixation.

You’d think Hollywood would have learned. This is a movie that crams in as many clichés as the producers thought they could fit into a single movie; mad scientists messing with Mother Nature, Mother Nature turning bitchy on the mad scientist, taciturn brooding hero with a checkered past, a group of researchers trapped on an underwater research facility by a big ol’ storm, a Terrible Secret, killer sharks ripping people into bite-sized hunks o’ gore and monsters WAY smarter than the trapped station personnel. Yes, all this and comic relief too.

Doctors McAlister (Burrows) and Whitlock (Skarsgard) are doing research into eradicating Alzheimer’s by testing their drugs on sharks, but all they wind up with is really smart sharks.  Diver Carter Blake (Jane) is thrown into the equation to save the day after a combination of a really bad storm and some pissed off super-smart sharks wreck the station and cut off the survivors only hope of escape.

Now, I’ll watch Samuel L. Jackson in a bad movie any day of the week, and his presence here earns the movie the stars it gets. Jackson is a wealthy man with compassion and a conscience; in short, the kind of guy who doesn’t really exist in real life. He has the best moments in the movie, including a pep talk that ends up unexpectedly and to great effect. Most of the other actors here really, um, tank.

LL Cool J, who plays a devout chef, utters the best line of the movie when things look bleak and it looks like the sharks are about to break into the humans’ temporary sanctuary: “I’m (doomed). Brothers always get eaten in situations like this.” The rapper-turned-actor is actually pretty likable despite a poorly-written character.

This isn’t one of the movies that director Renny Harlin will proudly display in his list of accomplishments. Some of the shark effects are nifty, but for the most part, LOOK fake. Too much CGI ruins the soup, folks. A little less cliché and a little more inventiveness might have saved this movie, but after Jaws let’s face it; no other shark movie is ever going to come close.

WHY RENT THIS: Samuel L. Jackson and LL Cool J are worth watching. Or you really like sharks.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cliché soup. Poorly written characters give the actors very little to work with. CGI is unbearable in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s quite a bit of shark gore here and a few choice bad words.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a featurette on the usage of real sharks and mechanical sharks in the movie, and the drawbacks of both.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $164.7M on a $60M production budget; the theatrical run was quite profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Six Days of Darkness continue!

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

I wouldn't be so calm with a monkey on my shoulder.

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Mr. T, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris. Directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord

We all want to leave our mark upon the world, but for a lot of us, that boils down to one thing – impressing our parents. After all, if they can’t see us as successful, nobody else will.

Flint Lockwood (Hader) wants nothing more than to be an inventor. He has some innovative ideas, but quite frankly they don’t turn out quite the way he intended them to. The ratbirds he breeds escape into the wild, flocking around garbage cans and dumps. His remote control television develops a mind of its own and runs away. He creates a device that allows him to communicate with Steve (Harris), his monkey but Steve’s one word responses aren’t exactly what he had in mind and Steve is much more interested in ripping the moustache of his taciturn father (Caan).

His mother believes in him and encourages him, but after she passes away, he is left to be raised by his dad, a sardine fisherman who doesn’t really understand his son. The gulf between them is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.

In fact, that’s essentially where they live, on an island well off the coast of America in the Atlantic. Swallow Falls is a company town and that company cans sardines. When the sardine market tanks, the town is left with a closed cannery, Baby Brent (Samberg) – the company mascot now grown to oversized adulthood and tons of unsold sardines which becomes the main food source for the islanders. Needless to say, they soon tire of sardines. Flint figures that he can change his status as town laughingstock by creating a device that will change water into food and sets out to build it in his backyard treehouse lab tower.

The town’s ambitious but corpulent mayor (Campbell) determines to reverse the town’s fortunes by creating Sardine Land, a destination theme park. However, Flint’s test of his rocket-powered food conversion device destroys the theme park, much to the disgust of Earl (Mr. T), the town’s lone police officer, but more importantly to the disappointment of his father. The device disappears into the stratosphere, leaving Flint once again to be the object of scorn.

Flint finds a kindred spirit in Sam Sparks (Faris), a wannabe weathercaster who thus far has been unable to rise above her intern status. Her first real assignment – covering the opening of Sardine Land – has turned into a debacle. The two are commiserating on the pier when a strange looking cloud approaches and starts to rain….cheeseburgers.

Yes, his device actually works and it creates a sensation. Thanks to Sam’s broadcast of the story, Swallow Falls becomes the center of the world’s attention. Flint goes from goat to hero in a single storm. He is able to program the menu from his lab and soon the requests come pouring in; jellybeans and ice cream for the kids, pizza and steak for the adults. Open-roofed restaurants become all the rage. The mayor happily gorges on the food that rains from the sky; there is such a surplus that a dam has to be built to hold the leftovers.

However, it turns out that there is a glitch in the software and the more that the device is asked to create, the more unstable it becomes. The food begins to get bigger and bigger until meatballs the size of Volkswagens begins to crash down from the clouds. Thanks to the incompetent mayor, the interface in Flint’s lab is destroyed. If the device isn’t shut down soon, the town will be wiped out and it is up to Flint to do it.

This is based on a children’s book popular 20 years ago, albeit very loosely. The original’s narrative was very barebones and the ink drawings not really in line with today’s animation style. The directors, who have a background in television with credits like “How I Met Your Mother” and “Clone High USA” on their resume, have crafted a movie that has received nothing but critical plaudits.

I have to admit I’m not as on board with the movie as other critics and even Da Queen are. I can admire the script which is cleverly written, full of the pop culture references that seem to be de rigueur for modern animated features, albeit in a much more subtle manner than most of them. There is a willful zaniness that owes a good deal to the Cartoon Network as much as anything else.

And maybe I’m a bit of a curmudgeon in that regard. I’m not a big fan of the Cartoon Network; I find most of the animation to be shoddy, the humor dumb and a little bit condescending to its audience. With few exceptions, most modern animated programs directed at kids seem to talk down to them.

That said, the casting is inspired. What could be more hip than having Bruce Campbell in your voice cast, and Mr. T as the acrobatic Earl is simply perfect. Everyone else does a solid job for the most part.

There are some good laughs and I suspect that most of you will probably like this a lot more than I did. I just couldn’t connect with it the way I have with things like Up, Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E and How to Train Your Dragon. That’s not a problem with the film; it’s a problem with me although I feel obliged to mention it, I can still recommend the movie to most audiences. I’m just not rating it higher because it’s the movie’s job to make that connection and it didn’t, and if it didn’t with me I’m sure that I’m not alone in that regard.

WHY RENT THIS: A well-written, clever script utilizes the pop culture references more subtly than, say, the Shrek series.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Simplistic animation not up to the sophistication of Pixar’s best work.

FAMILY VALUES: No worries – this is suitable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Earl has the exact opposite hairstyle than his voice actor Mr. T – instead of a T-shaped Mohawk he has a T-shaped bald spot.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A music video by Miranda Cosgrove (with accompanying making-of featurettes) and a food fight game are built into the Special Edition DVD; the Blu-Ray also gives you an option to launch food at the screen while the movie is playing.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Kinky Boots

Igor


Igor

Igor looks around for Tim Burton but can't find him.

(MGM) Starring the voices of John Cusack, Molly Shannon, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard, Jennifer Coolidge, Jay Leno, James Lipton, Arsenio Hall. Directed by Anthony Leondis

We all want to be the center of attention. Who doesn’t want to be the rock star? There aren’t many of us who dream of being the roadie, after all.

In the far-off land of Malaria, the reigning rock stars are mad scientists. With a climate disaster laying waste to their crops, the country has been forced into a new economic model; the world blackmail model. To that end, it helps if you have an evil genius designing a doomsday device that will bring the rest of the world to its knees, quaking in fear and eager to pull out the checkbook.

Of course, evil geniuses can’t be bothered to do their own grunt work. To that end, they have Igors – the physically deformed assistants who all share the same name so that the evil geniuses don’t have to waste a single brain cell thinking about what their names are. While Malaria hasn’t exactly set the world on fire yet (despite repeated attempts to), the Evil Science Fair still is a highly contested affair that can mean the difference between fame and nobodysville.

Dr. Schadenfreude (Izzard) has won the coveted fair for years and is the fair-haired boy of King Malbert (Leno). Dr. Glickenstein (Cleese) is determined to win the prize for himself, but despite the warnings of his Igor gets sent a one-way ticket to the Pearly Gates (or the flames of Hell – take your pick) in a gruesome industrial accident leaving his Igor (Cusack) in charge.

It turns out Igor has skills and he and his buddies Brain the disembodied brain (Hayes) and Scamper (Buscemi) the suicidal but sadly immortal rabbit do the impossible. They put together a body out of spare parts and give…it…LIFE…!!!!!

Cue the lightning and thunder. Yes, Igor has created a monster: Eva (Shannon) who is quite inexplicably not evil; why she literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. Igor determines to hypnotize her into being the evil monster that would be sure to make him the top mad scientist in all of Malaria, but accidentally puts in a tape of “Inside the Actors Studio” into the hypnosis session instead, so Eva comes out of the room wanting to fill out her journal of sense memories and demanding a bigger trailer.

Still, life is life and it’s a pretty big deal even if Eva is more of a diva than a devourer. Dr. Schadenfreude gets wind of Igor’s breakthrough and determines to steal the secret for himself. To top it all off, Igor has fallen in love with Eva. It’s enough to give you a humpache.

This is one of those movies that tries really hard to be hip; it’s heavily influenced by the Universal horror movies of the 30s and 40s (which, considering it was made by MGM is a bit ironic) and by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. The summary above sounds a lot more appealing than the execution.

The animation was done by the French studio that also gave us “Rolie Polie Olie.” The look of the movie is a bit dark, with industrial landscapes and lots of ochre. It doesn’t stand up to the fare of Pixar, Blue Sky and Sony but it’s still better than some of the cheap animation out there from lesser studios.

This is a pretty impressive voice cast. Think about it; would you see a live action movie with John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Molly Shannon, Arsenio Hall, Sean Hayes, Jennifer Coolidge and Eddie Izzard? In a heartbeat, says I.

The problem here is that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. The bits with Scamper and Brain are hysterical, but Igor himself is kind of bland. It’s not the fault of Cusack; it’s just that he doesn’t seem to be much more than a typical plucky animated feature hero. The movie needed a lot more than that.

Honestly I can’t tell you who this movie was supposed to appeal to. It’s a bit too offbeat for the average kid audience, but far too simple for the hipper viewer. It has at least the courage of its convictions and it makes a really noble effort to be different. The problem is that it doesn’t quite get there. It’s a near miss, but an interesting one; it certainly wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice vocal work and some really funny concepts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Straddles the line between being too offbeat for kids and too childish for adults.

FAMILY VALUES: Although this is far from scary, there are some elements which play on classic horror film imagery and might frighten the very small ones in your household.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Igor was originally supposed to be voiced by Christian Slater, but he was unable to do it due to his television commitments. Instead, he makes a cameo as one of the other Igors.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Last Airbender