Monday, February 28, 2011

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Gets An Ugly Stepsister With Looney Tunes: Back In Action.

The Good: Moments of humor/social commentary, Generally charming
The Bad: Predictable, Light on character, Obvious plot, Often painfully self-referential.
The Basics: Funny in a few parts, Looney Tunes: Back In Action is more frequently a painful collection of Warner Bros. references that fall flat as a film.

Perhaps it is the sheer number of great films I have seen lately, but mediocre movies suffer even more under my pen than they did before. Still, my wife has gotten quite sick of being "subjected" to Best Picture winners and to maintain a happy household, I've let her choose movies to alternate with my Best Picture winners. The latest new-to-me flick she wanted to watch was Looney Tunes: Back In Action.

For those who might not have heard of the film, Looney Tunes: Back In Action was a blend of live action settings and actors and animated characters. Hardly seamlessly blended, Looney Tunes: Back In Action is based on the premise that Looney Tunes characters like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny are real, but are actors. As such, real-life characters walk around interacting with animated characters and the animated characters, puppets and humans are treated with equal respect and sense of reality.

The Warner Brothers are looking to make a new film with Bugs Bunny and have brought in Kate, a network efficiency expert. Kate decides that the old formula with Bugs and Daffy fighting one another is not going to work and she fires Daffy Duck. Daffy is taken off the Warner Bros. lot by D.J. Drake, the son of action star Damien Drake. Despondent, Daffy accompanies the also-fired D.J. back to his home and once there, they learn that Damien has been kidnaped by the Acme Corporation. Acme is after the Blue Monkey Diamond and they are convinced D.J. has the tools to recover it for them.

Unfortunately for Kate, the new movie with Bugs Bunny is testing poorly and the Warner Brothers give her the weekend to get Daffy back. Kate and Bugs head out to Las Vegas to try to get the duck and former security guard back. But once reunited, the quartet works to save Damien, recover the Blue Monkey Diamond and thwart the machinations of the CEO of the Acme Corporation!

Looney Tunes: Back In Action has its moments, but they are few and far between for my tastes. Moreover, the movie oscillates problematically between being a ridiculous slapstick film and a social commentary. The commentary tends to explore how vacuous Hollywood is and how it markets and focus-group creates its works. So, for example, one of the amusing moments involves Kate, D.J., Bugs and Daffy wandering through a desert and encountering an oasis . . . WalMart. On the way in and out, Kate and D.J. reference the appearance of the WalMart in the film and how they keep saying the name of the store. While this is true and actually funny, it does not truly fit the same film where the villain is monolithically maniacally evil, down to his ridiculous over-the-top laugh.

As well, the blending of the live-action, puppets, and humans is not inherently problematic, but the execution in this particular movie is sloppy. At some moments, Daffy Duck appears as a three-dimensional animated character and at others, he is clearly two-dimensional. The lack of consistency in how the animated characters are presented is irksome at best. While the movie is no doubt intended for children, the attention to detail is lacking and adult audiences are likely to be disappointed sitting through it. Still, the movie attempts to make overtures to adults with the commentary on Hollywood.

Similarly, the scenes with the Chairman of Acme have dialogue that explores corporate greed and corruption, but they are broken up with the character devolving into evil laughter. Children as also less-likely to get the barrage of references from other Warner Brothers properties. In addition to Batman and animated Warner Bros. films, Looney Tunes: Back In Action has direct spoofs of Scooby-Doo and Doctor Who. The allusions are often not at all subtle, but many of them take a broad knowledge of Warner Bros. properties.

Looney Tunes: Back In Action seems like it would have been the death of the careers of everyone who was involved in it, but I suppose that so few people saw it that it cannot drag them down. I was particularly delighted to see Robert Picardo in the boardroom scenes, but that's just the geek in me. Steve Martin shows a particularly droll side of his talents as the Chairman of Acme and how Warner Bros. got Timothy Dalton to spoof himself so much is a mystery to me. Martin in particular shows an almost singular neglect of his well-developed talents as the Chairman; he is almost as off as he was in The Pink Panther.

But the live-action portions of Looney Tunes: Back In Action tend to hinge upon the acting talents of Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman. Fraser seems perfectly comfortable with acting opposite the virtual characters, but more often than not, Elfman is caught looking in the wrong directions and holding virtual objects awkwardly. This is a mix of poor acting and poor animating as some of the problems could have been animated around to actually make her look like she was more comfortable with them. This is not filled with any stellar performances.

As well, the movie is absent any real character development. The problems are simple problems with simple, formulaic resolutions and when there are surprises, they are hardly monumental or character-enriching either for the characters in the movie or for the audience. As a result, much of Looney Tunes: Back In Action seems like a string of random jokes about Warner Bros. owned properties and the self-referential schtick wears thin quickly.

On DVD, Looney Tunes Back In Action features multiple featurettes. They include stunts and a behind-the-scenes featurette. As well, there are deleted scenes - which are generally funny or charming - and the film's theatrical trailer. There is no commentary track, but truly this is not a movie that needs one.

All in all, this is a comedy that seems to want to be ambitious and smart, but sells out to the kid audience to provide obvious slapstick jokes. As a result, it holds together poorly and is not worth even a single viewing, despite having moments of humor.

For other works with Brendan Fraser, please check out my reviews of:
Furry Vengeance
G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra
Gods And Monsters


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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