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August '06


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Reviewed by Russ Simmons

One of the most difficult movie genres to pull off is the musical. There are a lot more ways that it can go wrong than right.

But for the immensely creative team of Andre Benjamin (a k a Andre 3000) and Antwan A. Patton (a k a Big Boi), collectively known as the hip-hop group Outkast, it is a challenge to be savored.

Idlewild is a musical melodrama set in the small Southern town of the same name. Benjamin plays Percival, son of the local mortician (Ben Vereen). During his evenings, Percival is a pianist at a local speakeasy. The star singer at this juke joint is Rooster (Patton), a slick wheeler-dealer and an unapologetic philanderer. Percival and Rooster are lifelong friends.

Things get very complicated when a ruthless local thug named Trumpy (Terrance Howard from Crash) knocks off a few underworld folks and takes over the liquor distribution business. He puts the squeeze on Rooster, who has inherited the bar from one of Trumpy’s victims.

To further muddy the waters, along comes a beautiful, high maintenance singer named Angel (Paula Patton) who is booked to appear at the club. As you might expect, Pervical falls for her. But Angel has a secret in her past that creates a tangled web for Percival, a wannabe songwriter.

Written and directed by newcomer Bryan Barber, Idlewild is a beautifully produced and often very inventive film. While there is little that is original about the story, Barber’s technique adds a lot of visual razzle-dazzle. Camera acrobatics can often come off as showy and pretentious. It’s as if the filmmaker was shouting to the world, “Hey, look what I learned in film school!” But in the case of Idlewild, Barber uses a lot of modern cinematic techniques to enhance the proceedings, injecting life into a merely standard script.

Some people may have a difficult time adjusting to the musical numbers in Idlewild. Rap had yet to be invented in the 1930s, but that doesn’t stop the Outkast alums from boldly injecting hip-hop influences into the soundtrack. When Rooster steps up to the stage to “sing,” he offers incongruous rap numbers instead of jazz.

But movie musicals require audiences to suspend their disbelief anyway. (Would Julie Andrews really be singing in English atop an Austrian Alp with full orchestral accompaniment in The Sound of Music?) Once the initial jolt has passed, we’re ready to accept anything Andre and Big Boy offer us.

Innovative and entertaining, Idlewild is a refreshingly welcome change of pace. Like their eclectic music, the guys from Outkast have pulled it off with style. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted 8/25/06)

Little Miss Sunshine
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

When a movie is dubbed “quirky” that term automatically ensures that the audience will be polarized. Some will find it delightfully offbeat, while others will be turned off by its weirdness.

That certainly holds true of Little Miss Sunshine, a self-consciously quirky road comedy about a particularly eccentric family. While the 1972 oddity Harold and Maude is today considered a classic, its appeal is anything but universal. (Roger Ebert famously hated it.)

Little Miss Sunshine is no Harold and Maude, but it has its unique delights for audiences who appreciate off-center characters.

The story involves a nine-year-old girl named Olive, played by newcomer Abigail Breslin. Olive is delighted when she learns that the girl who defeated her in a local beauty pageant will not be able to compete in the finals. As runner-up, she gets to go in her place.

It is now up to her family to make sure that she gets there to compete. Problem is, her family is — to use the oft-abused term — dysfunctional.

Dad Richard, played by Greg Kinnear (As Good As it Gets), is a Tony Robbins wannabe, a failed self-help guru whose greatest hope is to get his book published in order to lift his family out of poverty.

Grandpa, played by Alan Arkin (Firewall), is a likable geezer. He’s also quite fond of heroin and porn, and not the least bit shy about discussing his interests.

Olive’s brother Dwayne (Paul Dano from The Ballad of Jack and Rose) is a teenage Goth who’s taken a vow of silence. (He communicates through a pad of paper writing “Welcome to Hell” when his Uncle Frank arrives.)

Uncle Frank (The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s Steve Carell) is a gay professor, an expert on Proust. He’s seriously depressed because his boyfriend left him for another Proust scholar, and the family is on suicide watch.

Olive’s mom is the exasperated Sheryl, played by Toni Collette (The Night Listener), the most emotionally stable of the bunch. She’s been supporting the family while Richard has been busy trying jumpstart his career.

News of Olive’s inclusion in the “Little Miss Sunshine” finals gives the family a common goal and they begin an arduous road trip to see that she gets there to compete.

The husband and wife directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, along with writer Michael Arndt, make an impressive movie debut with this oddball character study. Yes, their characters are self-consciously idiosyncratic and the movie seems forced at times, but thanks to a great cast and some genuinely funny moments, Little Miss Sunshine is a likeable celebration of eccentricity. (R) Rating: 3.5 (Posted 8/18/06)

Snakes on a Plane
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Way back in 1999, a little independent film called The Blair Witch Project became a box office phenomenon. The movie generated its buzz through a relatively new communications venue, the Internet.

While movies have continued to exploit the net and every film now has to have its own website, creating that same kind of buzz has been elusive…until now.

Snakes on a Plane, one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer, was never intended to be anything more than a Hollywood popcorn flick, something that the studio threw into the late summer lineup in hopes of picking up a few dollars before school went back into session.

But the cheese proved irresistible. Bloggers and chatters started buzzing about the “best worst movie of the year” based solely on the stupid title. Once the screenplay had been posted, however, these geeks were incensed.

New Line Cinema was going to deliver a milquetoast, PG-13 rated flick, something that no self-respecting cheese aficionado would want to see. They insisted that the movie be rated R, filled with sex, foul language and graphic violence.

Sensitive to the demands of their core audience, New Line obliged. They had director David Ellis (Final Destination 2) and the cast reassemble for five days in order to shoot a number of additional scenes. Now fans will be able to hear Samuel L. Jackson (Shaft) utter the soon to be classic line: “"That's it! I have had it with these motherf*cking snakes on this motherf*cking plane!".

Jackson plays Nelville Flynn, an FBI agent who is accompanying a witness in a mob trial (Nathan Phillips from Wolf Creek) from Hawaii to Los Angeles. The gangster has set a plot in motion to fill the plane with deadly serpents in order to ensure that the witness never testifies.

Julianna Margulies (TV’s ER) is also on board as Claire, a flight attendant on her last flight (naturally) before going off to become a lawyer. Flynn relies on her when things get slimy.

Thanks to the bloggers, the film has some cheesy shots that almost make the enterprise a campy delight. There’s the snake that bites the sexy girl on the breast, the snake that crawls up a rotund lady’s skirt, and (of course) the guy who gets his manhood comically lengthened when relieving himself in the john.

Sadly, these moments are few and far between. “SOAP” (as it is affectionately nicknamed) could have been a camp classic and instead is a by-the-numbers thriller with a reptilian twist.

Thanks to the Internet, the filmmakers have delivered the movie that the public insisted it wanted to see. That reality is scarier than anything the movie could ever deliver. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 8/18/06)

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

In some circles, the name of 72-year-old Canadian singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen is spoken in hushed, reverential tones. Those who gather in the circles will find the new documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man right up their alley. Others hoping to get real insight into his artistry will have to look elsewhere.

The documentary from Lian Lunson, whose previous efforts in this arena include the 1997 TV flick, Willie Nelson: Down Home, is a combination interview and tribute concert. While interesting and sporadically entertaining, it’s a bit incomplete in both areas.

The tribute footage comes from a concert staged at Australia’s Sydney Opera House and produced by Hal Wilner. A number of performers put their own unique spin on Cohen’s songs, including Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave and Linda Thompson. For people who find Cohen’s own vocals little better than a croaky gravel, hearing others render his tunes might be a relief.

Still, many may miss hearing the poet interpret his own work. (Let’s face it, while Cohen’s voice makes Bob Dylan and Tom Waits seem like opera stars by comparison, it’s still great to hear the songwriter bleat his own painfully honest words.) As Cohen himself states, “People have generously accorded me the title of 'musician’, even though I can barely sing well enough to carry a tune.”

Between numbers, Lunson interjects footage of Cohen talking about his life including brief anecdotes that lead up to each song. While these stories amount to nothing more than a thumbnail sketch of the artist, they are amusing nonetheless.

Cohen, a Jewish-born Buddhist, comes off as a likable, self-effacing sort, both resigned to and regretful of the indiscretions of his past. In one segment, he reads the introduction to a book of his poems that has been translated into Chinese, offering an apology for wasting the reader’s time.

But there are plenty of folks who’ll carry Cohen’s banner for him. U2 lead singer, Bono is quoted here comparing Cohen to Keats and Shelley. “Lots of writers take you right up to the edge of reason and look over the abyss," Bono claims, "but only Leonard laughs at what he sees there."

The concert footage is presented in a straightforward, no-nonsense way. Wainwright comes off best with a gleeful, up-tempo rendition of “Everybody Knows.”

At the end of the film, Cohen finally gets his chance in the spotlight singing the songwriters’ anthem, “Tower of Song,” backed by U2.

Both newcomers and longtime Cohen fans will probably agree on one thing. The movie simply doesn’t have enough Cohen. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted 8/18/06)

Reviewed by Russ Simmons

If today’s teens have seen the 1986 comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off or the 1976 gag-fest, Animal House, it was probably on cable and in somewhat altered versions.

So it is certainly safe for the studio to sell them a new movie that steals from both films without fear of their core audience calling them on it.

Indeed, Accepted could easily have been titled Ferris Joins the Animal House as a slick wheeler-dealer manipulates the system after graduating from high school.

Justin Long is best known from the Apple Computer television commercials as the ultra-hip Mac who makes the PC look like a clueless nerd by comparison. He brings that same persona to Accepted as Bartleby Gaines, an academically lazy but endlessly clever young man.

After being rejected by every college he applied to, Bartelby’s parents read him the riot act. In a moment of Machiavellian inspiration, he comes up with a scheme to get them off his back.

Bartleby recruits his best friend Sherman, played by Jonah Hill (Click), to create a website for a fictional college called South Harmon Institute of Technology. (Be careful with that acronym.)

Making the site as realistic a possible, the duo manage to pull the wool over the eyes of Bartleby’s folks, claiming that he’s been accepted into this prestigious institution. His parents fork over 10 grand for his tuition. Cha-ching!

Because they made the website so convincing, however, it becomes incumbent upon Bartleby to actually create the college. Things get hairy when a wide range of losers show up to begin the first day of classes.

Naturally, there’s not a believable moment in this silly setup, but it does provide an opportunity to milk some laughs from the premise.

First-time director Steve Pink, screenwriter of much better films like Gross Point Blank and High Fidelity, makes due with what’s been given to him here. The screenplay by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Mark Perez has none of the sophistication of Pink’s work, so one might wonder what the movie would have been like had Pink done a little re-writing.

Pink manages to pull in a likable cast, though. Long is well-suited for the role of Bartleby, and comic Lewis Black (TV’s The Daily Show) plays a misfit ex-professor who makes a fitting Dean for this bogus college.

For undemanding teens (and those of us who don’t mind a cheap laugh), Accepted is an acceptable time-waster. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 8/18/06)

World Trade Center
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Are audiences ready? Is it too soon? Those are the central questions that keep popping up regarding World Trade Center, Oliver Stone’s film about the experiences of two New York City cops on Sept. 11, 2001.

Stone, the controversial auteur whose body of work includes “leftist” cinematic indulgences like Platoon, El Salvador, Wall Street and Born of the Fourth of July, wears his political heart on his sleeve. Still, all of his work is skillfully rendered.

But perhaps Stone’s most controversial film, the one that has (in some circles) stuck him forever with the label ‘conspiratorial nutcase’, is 1991’s JFK. That film attempted to prove that there was a vast cover up revolving around the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Those concerned that Stone will put a leftist political spin on the material have nothing to fear. This is a respectful, sober and honorable film that tells a sweeping story by focusing on a simple one. The only thing that World Trade Center seems to have in common with other Stone films is that it is riveting cinema.

The film is based upon the reminiscences of officers John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, and their wives. The movie centers on the excruciating experiences of the families as well as on the courageous people who work tirelessly to rescue the officers.

Nicholas Cage (The Weatherman) and Michael Pena (Crash) star as McLoughlin and Jimeno, respectively, who bravely enter the twin towers on that fateful day in an attempt to rescue civilians. The duo become trapped and seriously injured when the buildings collapse on them. Maria Bello (A History of Violence) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Monster House) co-star as their longsuffering wives who fear the worst.

Besides the non-political nature of the film, World Trade Center has other surprises. For one, it comes off as a flag-waving bit of Americana in spite of the tragedy it examines. Another surprise comes in the form of a central character named Dave Karnes, played by Michael Shannon (Bug).

Karnes was a retired Marine who donned his old fatigues and went to Ground Zero to help in the rescue efforts. A gung-ho soldier, Karnes refused to clear out when the officials called off their search until daylight. He found the officers who would have died without his efforts. Looking around at the rubble, Karnes says, “This must be avenged.” (Not a typical Oliver Stone moment.) Karnes later re-enlisted and served in Iraq.

Beautifully produced and often touching, World Trade Center is a tough movie to watch, but it’s also a genuinely moving celebration of the human spirit. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted 8/11/06)

Step Up
Reviewed by Deborah Young

In one hyperbolic scene in the 1984 movie Footloose, Kevin Bacon’s character declares, “Now is our time to dance.”

Every generation has its time to dance, its season to break out in the youthfully exuberant moves popular at that historical period. Dance movies reflect those periods, usually with good pop music, awesome dance moves and often with laughably bad acting.

Step Up is no exception. Its young leads (Channing Tatum as Tyler Gage and Jenna Dewan as Nora Clark) dance up a storm, but they don’t really act.

Their performances and the movie’s production quality are not as raw as those in 1980’s dance films such as Beat Street (1984) and Breakin’ (1984). In those films, the actors seemed to shout at each other over dull background noises, such as the unadorned roar of traffic.

But in Step Up the drama plays out over a polished and catchy hip-hop sound track. The moment ghetto-bound Tyler steps into the Maryland School of the Arts to perform community service, it’s obvious that he’ll find his purpose there. It’s an old story, and screenwriters Duane Adler (Save the Last Dance) and Melissa Rosenberg (The O.C. television series) don’t add any new spins.

When Nora and Tyler meet, it’s obvious that they’ll become dance partners and that they’ll fall for each other. They’re from different worlds, but their love of dance draws them to each other.

Tyler and Nora’s relationship, and in fact the entire plot, holds absolutely no surprises. However, young dance fans probably won’t care about the thin plot and horrific acting, because these professional dancers can move, and the beats are hot. In this kind of film, that’s all that counts.

I still remember Breakin’ and Beat Street. I remember how excited I was to see those dancers spinning on their heads and pop-lockin’. I still recall living vicariously through their rap-enhanced antics.

Step Up is this generation’s Beat Street. It captures today’s hip-hop music styles and dance moves with the added appeal of an attractive cast.

Choreographer Anne Fletcher (choreographer for Ice Princess and Bring It On) directed this film with a focus on dance moves rather than story or emotional nuances. Viewers can check their brains at the door and just enjoy the dancing. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 8/11/06)

Who Killed the Electric Car?
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Add alternative fuel vehicles to the list of figures assassinated by evil forces bent on economic and political domination.

Who Killed the Electric Car? attempts to answer the title question presented in this documentary and it plays a bit like a conspiratorial exposé.

After sharing some background on the brief history of the electric car before the internal combustion engine took over, Chris Paine’s film jumps ahead to tell the sad story of General Motors’ EV1, an all-electric automobile that, from all reports, was an efficient, well-constructed and economical vehicle that performed as well as most gas-guzzlers.

Through talking heads, news footage and a bit of ambush journalism, the filmmaker makes a strong case that a “perfect storm” of self-serving forces worked together to put an end to a promising, zero-emission technology.

Paine has recruited a group of celebrities to share their experiences with the EV1. Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks and Alexandra Paul are among the stars who loved their clean and handy cars, and give glowing reports on its efficiency. In fact, in the early days, GM recruited these celebs, placing them above others on the long waiting list.

But as the film contends, the automaker created the EV1 only because California law had mandated that a certain percentage of cars traveling on the state’s roads had to be zero-emission vehicles. GM and other automakers and dealers later sued the state to remove the requirement.

After getting some friendly advocates on the board that oversees California air quality, an exception was made to the law. The only requirement was that the automakers must manufacture the cars to “meet demand”. It then became incumbent upon the automakers to make sure there was no demand.

But other forces were working against the EV1, too. The government gave tax incentives to consumers so that they’d purchase SUVs like Hummers. The head of the air quality oversight committee in California was employed in the development of a rival technology, hydrogen fuel cells. Gas companies bought the firm that developed and manufactured efficient batteries…and abruptly pulled the plug.

Paine effectively presents the evidence of guilt while following GM’s belligerent behavior when dealing with electric car advocates. When the initial leases were up (no one was allowed to purchase the car outright), GM re-claimed and crushed them all.

A chilling indictment of serious flaws in our economic system, Who Killed the Electric Car? could provide a scary double-bill with another documentary currently in theatres, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. (PG) Rating: 3.5 (Posted 8/4/06)

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine the pitch that the producers must have used win over Hollywood executives in order to secure the funds for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. It probably went something like this: “It’s Anchorman meets NASCAR. It can’t miss.”

Given the fact that Will Ferrell’s 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy made over $90 million worldwide and that NASCAR has become America’s most popular spectator sport, one can also imagine the dollar signs that popped into the eyes of those studio execs.

If the producers did indeed pitch the movie that way, then they nailed it. The creative team is the same, and the essential elements of Talladega Nights and Anchorman are almost identical. And, as always, Ferrell delivers his peculiar brand of off-kilter humor that he honed for years on Saturday Night Live.

Like Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby is a clueless egomaniac. As a youngster, his shiftless dad, Reese (Gary Cole), abandoned the family leaving him with this advice: “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

While not academically inclined, Ricky tried hard to figure out how to finish first. In a twist of fate, he becomes a NASCAR driver. Along with the help of his teammate and lifelong pal Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), Ricky quickly ascends to the top of the racing heap.

Things go swimmingly for Ricky, and he basks in the glow of his own success. At the family dinner table, he gives thanks with this prayer: “Dear Lord baby Jesus, I want to thank you for this wonderful meal, my two beautiful sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, and my red-hot smokin' wife, Carley.”

But Ricky’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of a gay French driver named Jean Girard, played by Sacha Baron Cohen (TV’s Da Ali G Show). He quickly challenges Ricky’s dominance, emasculating our hero and sending his life into a tailspin.
When his long-lost dad returns to offer his help, Ricky tries to rehabilitate himself and regain his confidence.

While Ferrell and director Adam McKay are credited with the screenplay, you’ve got to give some credit to Cohen, Reilly and others for the many obviously improvised moments that give the movie its zing. But Cole gives the movie’s best performance as Ricky’s long-lost, deadbeat dad. (He makes a real case that he’s sadly underutilized as a comedic actor.)

While the movie has many laughs, it runs out of gas long before the final credits. Ferrell fanatics won’t care, however, and NASCAR fans that aren’t easily offended (their world isn’t exactly treated with respect) should find it oddly amusing.

While the screenplay could have used some work in the pits, Talladega Nights will, no doubt, finish first in the box office race. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted 8/4/06)

The Descent
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Don’t get The Descent confused with last year’s creepfest, The Cave.

Yes, both are about spelunkers. Both deal with bat-like humanoid carnivores that dwell in deep caverns and prey upon any humans who dare to enter their domain. Both are bloody, excessively gory horror flicks that just want to make you jump with both shock and revulsion.

The Cave was a big-budget studio production that earned its way onto many “Worst of the Year” lists. The Descent is a skillfully made, low-budget, independent affair that will certainly avoid that fate.

The truly unique twist with The Descent is that is its adventurers are all women, making this one of the few horror films dealing with female empowerment. (Sigourney Weaver, you are not alone.)

After a particularly well-staged prologue that gives us some background for the events to come, a group of European adventurers travel to America to explore the Boreham Caverns in the Appalachian Mountains.

Lone American Juno (Natalie Mendoza from Code 46) is one tough cookie, leading a group of her equally able friends from the Continent on this particular adventure. Among her fellow spelunkers is Sarah, played by Shauna Macdonald (TV’s Spooks). She is still recovering from the emotional toll taken by a freak auto accident that killed her husband and daughter a year earlier.

As the explorers lower themselves into the abyss, the ladies are unaware that Juno has decided to take them into a hitherto unexplored area. There, they endure claustrophobic passageways and near-fatal cave-ins. Lost underground, they encounter the aforementioned beasts that begin picking them off one-by-one.

If this weren’t bad enough, a rivalry between Juno and Sarah comes into play, a conflict hinted at in the prologue.

After a prolonged build up, the predatory creatures finally arrive and the remainder of the action deals with the horrific demise of both our explorers and some of the cave dwellers. (Some of these Rambo-like gals really know how to defend themselves and gore fans will not be disappointed as the movie ramps up the carnage.)

Writer/director Neil Marshall is responsible for the exceptional 2002 film, Dog Soldiers, a genuinely rousing werewolf flick. Here, he again shows some nifty directorial flourishes. His skillful use of lighting and rejection of much computer-generated imagery give the movie an uncomfortably realistic feel.

But The Descent is also filled with clichés, both in its characters and its shocks. Plus, all of the characters are straight out of central casting.

But character development isn’t what The Descent is about. It’s about gore, and that will play just as well on cable TV as the big screen. If gore’s your thing, this is a descent you’ll want to take. Others beware. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 8/4/06)

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Perhaps the operators of IMAX theatres should take a tip from the airline industry and supply barf bags with every seat. Certainly some patrons of Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag could use them.

This beautifully photographed and eye-popping IMAX film is being offered at the Extreme Screen theatre at Union Station. With a screen and technology that’s unsurpassed in the area, it’s certainly a great place to take flight...if you’re not prone to becoming queasy.

This 48-minute documentary details the training experiences of Air Force captain John C. “Otter” Stratton during Operation Red Flag, a joint exercise between American fliers and allied forces that takes place at Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert.

The film opens with a montage of photos of Stratton’s grandfather, a highly decorated WWII fighter pilot. With his grandfather as a hero, role model and inspiration, Stratton’s future as a military man seemed assured.

The movie then segues into the actual training experience. With Stratton providing some of the voice-over, we get a dizzying, vicarious taste of what he went through.

As the film purports, these training missions are often more dangerous than actual combat. As narrator Michael Hanrahan explains, a pilot that has survived his first ten missions improves his chance of overall survival by eighty percent. Operation Red Flag, therefore, attempts to cram those ten missions into one brutal training exercise.

Through giant IMAX cameras mounted on the jets, writer/director Stephen Low (Across the Sea of Time: New York 3-D) is able to capture some amazing images that have a tremendous impact up on the IMAX screen that’s ten times bigger than conventional movie screens. (The Extreme Screen, KC’s largest, is reportedly 5 stories high.) From the looks of things, there were also a number of cameras on the ground giving us a number of angles on the same action.

F-15s, Stealth bombers and various support craft zip in and out of one another’s path at upwards of 600 miles per hour. Plus, skilled pilots who take the role of the opponents use simulated artillery to knock our heroes down. (Computer operators who are monitoring the air war from the ground, let pilots know when they’re “dead”.)

While the flight sequences are exhilarating, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag comes to a screeching halt when Earthbound. Only the most avid military junkie will enjoy these stagy sequences.

Fortunately, the movie stays in the air most of the time, making it worthy of a short, groggy spin. (G) Rating: 3 (Posted 8/4/06)

Barnyard: The Original Party Animals
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Barnyard: The Original Party Animals is the brainchild of Steve Oedekerk, writer of comic fare like Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Liar, Liar and Bruce Almighty. Each of those movies starred the inimitable Jim Carrey, and his brilliant comedic aptitude fit with Oedekerk’s script like hand in glove.

But Oedekerk is also responsible for the screenplay for the wildly popular 2001 computer animated film, Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius and due to its success, he gained the cred he needed to make Barnyard.

Playing a lot like a comic reinterpretation of the themes from The Lion King, Barnyard is a broad and silly cartoon that tries awfully hard to entertain. Sometimes, it tries too hard.

Kevin James (TV’s King of Queens) leads the voice talent as Otis, a male cow (more on this later) who is the son of the farm’s head watchman, Ben (Sam Eliot, ironically the voice of the beef industry).

You see, the animals need a watchman, because they lead a double life. Unbeknownst to humans, they can talk, walk on two legs and party till the cows come home (but only when there are no people watching).

Always goofing off when he needs to learn how to be a leader, Otis is a disappointment to his respected father. He doesn’t want to be a leader. He just wants to rock and to romance the new female cow, Daisy (Courtney Cox from Friends).

But there are deadly coyotes that want to invade the hen house and munch on a few other farm animals while they’re at it. It’s up to Ben and Otis to look after the welfare of the herds and flocks. When Otis talks his way out of his turn at watch, the coyotes attack and Ben is killed. That leaves Otis with a big decision do make.

The film doesn’t go for the ultra realism of other CGI efforts, but adopts an appropriate comic page look. (Yes, there are no bulls, just “male cows”…and they have udders. Why? As Oedekerk explains, “Udders are funny.”)

The movie’s humor is derived mainly from slapstick and goofy musical choices and it delivers the comedy and pathos the same way: With a sledgehammer.

While the youngsters should enjoy it and parents should find it relatively painless, Barnyard will work just as well on TV as the big screen. Parents will enjoy it more if they wait for it to come out on cable. (PG) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 8/4/06)

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