The Boston cops had it wrong: the promotional gizmos put up in public places to advertise this movie weren’t bombs, it’s the picture itself that’s one. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” has become a cult favorite in the “Adult Swim” latenight schedule of cable’s Cartoon Network, recounting, in short (ten-minute or so) sketches, the surrealistic adventures of a trio of unlikely roommates—an anthropomorphic milkshake (the egomaniacal, pushy one), meatball (the slow-witted dullard) and package of fries (the voice of reason, insofar as that exists in this context), with various superpowers—that bicker and get involved in loopy escapades, mostly thwarting plots to take over the world. This bumpily-titled effort (the first, but surely not the last, of “Borat”-inspired extra-long monikers) is a feature-length version of it.
But increasing the length eightfold, as it turns out, only increases the misery. The television series is at best an acquired taste—or, if you’re lucky, an unacquired one—but even viewers who have watched only snatches of it can testify that the individual episodes, while flagrantly off-the-wall, have a touch of coherence to them. The same can’t be said of the movie. It has something to do with yet another scheme to conquer the world via an exercise machine that spews out robotic soldiers, and in addition reveals the origin of the three fast-food “heroes.” But it’s impossible to make heads or tails out of most of what follows (not that the scripters much want you to try). The picture takes an utterly scattershot approach, which would be fine if any of the bullets fired came anywhere near the target. This is a modern-day Dada-esque exercise that confuses mere disorder for cutting-edge commentary on cultural foolishness.
Still, dedicated fans will probably take to it out of a sense of uncritical duty, especially since it folds into the “plot” most of the show’s characters—goofy neighbor Carl, the malevolent Dr. Weird, and an assortment of earthly foes and otherworldly villains like the Mooinites. But anyone else will simply be baffled. Because as with “South Park,” the animation is deliberately cheesy; but unlike that show, narrative drive and wit are pretty much nonexistent, and the supposed assaults on “popular culture” thin indeed. This viewer, who’s seen a bit of the program but is hardly an initiate, smiled at exactly one moment in “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for the Theater”—an offhanded reference to Cronenberg’s “Videodrome.” Otherwise the thing was sheer torture to sit through, and that will doubtless be the case with everybody else who’s not a regular.
On second thought, even the most devoted cult follower of “ATHF” may be disappointed in this effort to turn it into big-screen fodder. What’s amusing, even if just to a cult, in very short doses may well pale when it approaches the ninety-minute mark, especially since by that point the haze may begin to wear off.
Which raises a more fundamental point: it’s been suggested that the proper way to watch “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”—either on the tube or in the theatre—is in the company of some substance that will enhance, shall we say, the sensory experience and tolerance for the visually bizarre and a chain of verbal non-sequiturs. In other words, it’s supposed to serve the same function that, for example, the light show at the end of “2001” did for so many pot-heads back in the late sixties; they’d sit stoned in the front rows of Cinerama theatres and be wowed by the bombardment of special effects. If that’s the case, it’s only one more sign of the decline of civilization over the last four decades. At least with Kubrick’s work, the aid to sensory overload was a great film. In the case of “ATHFCMFFT,” it’s about as far from that as one can get.