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IN SHORT: Fine for kidlets. Disappointing for fans. [Rated PG for some mild language and innuendo. 98 minutes]
For the first fifteen minutes of our first screening of Looney Toons Back in Action, we were treated to a non-stop Spanish translation of the film, courtesy some lout with a cell phone sitting behind us, relaying all the action and thrills to (we're assuming) a child stuck at home with a cold or something. At the moment we turned to yell at the fool to hang the phone up, LTBIA shifted from gag mode to full parody of a very famous Hitchcock movie mode and totally left us in the dust. So, we planted a second time and found that that shift in comic direction, for all of the minute or so it takes, shoots LTBIA in the paws. Or flippers, whatever. So let us deal with the rest of the normal, gag-filled extended length 'toon.
"Action" there is aplenty in Looney Toons Back in Action, a film whose attention to detail -- the animation is top notch and, finally, Mel Blanc's original voice characterizations have been properly duplicated -- is more than commendable. Laffs, on the other hand, fell short of expectations for us. That requires a wee bit of explanation. Long time readers probably know that we are major toonheads. They also know that it is the policy of the Site not to compare to original material. So, what do we do when we've seen all the jokes before? We sit, at least for the first half of Looney Toons Back in Action waiting for something interesting and or still amusing to happen. That our expectations aren't met until the second half of the film, and they were met big time, leaves us reviewing a film that misses the boat but generates a large splash when it hit the water. (That's an old visual gag but it's appropriate).
Yeah, we try to shut off everything Tex Avery and Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng did but, at its root, the rivalry of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny has always extended to their "personal" lives as well as their professional career. LTBIA tries to extend this but, in characterizing our furry friends closer to human than ever before, something drops out of the mix. Oh yeah, laughs. The less you remember, or the younger the kidlets you have to take to the local cineplex, the better.
The story is pretty simple, until it gets complex 'cuz this is a big screen effort, after all. Daffy Duck, perennial second banana to Bugs Bunny has finally had it. He demands top billing from the new WB VP for comedy, Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman) and she hands him his beak on a platter and orders security guard DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser) to escort the duck -- "Daffy" is a name owned by the studio -- off the premises. DJ is not so good at following orders and is himself deprived of ongoing employment opportunities.
DJ, it turns out, is the son of the studio's legendary action star Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton), an actor who specialized in playing an Agent, Secret Agent (hint hint). What DJ didn't know is that dear old dad is a spy for real and that pater's current mission could be his last unless DJ can get to Las Vegas and recover a magical diamond called the Blue Monkey, coveted by arch-super foe Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin), the power that is the all-powerful Acme Corporation.
DJ needs the diamond to ransom his dad. Daffy wants the diamond because said stone will make him rich. Kate is chasing the pair down because the Warner Brothers tell her to -- it seems Bugs isn't as funny as a solo act -- and Bugs tags along for the ride because, hey, it ain't a Looney Tunes 'toon without Bugs Bunny. The adventure will bring all concerned into contact with super-secret undercover (and underdressed) spy Dusty Tails (Heather Locklear) and the Mother (Joan Cusack) of all spy-dom who runs the incredibly secret Area 52, an area so secret that the legendary black ops Area 51 was created to hide it. And that's the last of the good jokes we'll spill.
Except for the fact that just about all of the supporting Looney Tunes characters are not exactly the light and fluffy 'toons you've come to love throughout the years.
And that the main characters wind up in a famous French art museum and 'toons being 'toons the primary colors hit the palette, so to speak. Only at this point did LTBIA kick into total 'toon pleasure mode, topping the whole thing off with a heroic save the day appearance by a superhero from a century not our own.
Director Joe Dante and Co. obviously love the LT universe. All the required elements and trademark lines are present in the film but almost to the point of getting in the way of the good, new stuff. Fraser holds his own, nose to beak, with the difficult duck. Locklear can't sing or dance, which is probably the joke for her character's cover and the film only shifts to high gear when it decides to parody everything from Indiana Jones movies to Men in Black and Star Wars flicks. Once that happens, the pacing of the jokes goes out the window, just the way we expect it to. It is, unfortunately, too little too late.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Looney Toons Back in Action, he would have paid . . .
If you've got kidlets that are not tooned out, a big screen Bugs is a treat. For those of us with decades of exposure, it's a rental as most of the film retreads old material that gets in the way of some brilliant new ideas.
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