Category Archives: Archived Movies

KUNG FU PANDA 2

Grade: C

There’s lots of action but surprisingly little humor in this sequel to DreamWorks’ animated smash that blended martial arts knockabout with Winnie the Poo-inspired sweetness. “Kung Fu Panda 2” is ravishing to look at, but its by-the-numbers story isn’t enough to keep even a toddler occupied.

This installment is an amalgam of two narrative threads. One involves a battle by Po (voiced again by Jack Black), now feted as the Dragon Warrior, and his five comrades—Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross)—against an ambitious peacock named Shen (Gary Oldman), who has harnessed the power of fireworks for evil purposes, developing cannon-like weaponry with which he plans to conquer all China by “killing” kung-fu as a fighting method. The sextet go off to fight Shen and his wolf lieutenant (Danny McBride) after the villains have taken over the peaceful realm of Masters Ox (Dennis Haysbert), Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Rhino (Victor Garber).

But his pint-sized mentor Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) tells Po that in order to be victorious over Shen—as the Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) says he will be—he must achieve “inner peace.” And that will involve coming to terms with his true parentage—which in turn means redefining his relationship with his “father,” the noodle-selling goose Mr. Ping (James Hong).

Frankly, Mr. Ping is easily the best character in “Panda 2,” and it’s unfortunate that he’s relegated to appearances at the beginning and the end. Most of the picture is devoted to the kung-fu gang’s confrontations with Shen—a preening sort who spends most of his time spouting Snidely Whiplash dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in the mouth of a James Bond villain—and consists of hand-to-hand combat. The many fight sequences are certainly well animated, in widescreen format no less (and with the obligatory 3D adding punch). And the sight of great towers crashing to the ground and fireworks bombs rushing toward the audience are certainly eye-catching. But as such sequences accumulate they get more wearying for viewers than they apparently do for the participants. And though Po is celebrated as the great leader of the bunch, he’s also portrayed as sort of a stumblebum—a necessity of the plot, perhaps, but no less illogical for that.

In fact the character of Po is one of the least successful elements of the movie. Though he continues to consume great amounts of food, less is made this time around of it as the source of his fighting ability; he’s simply presented as the destined one. But he remains a basically uninteresting fellow, even though apart from Ping, the writers have assigned most of the humorous lines to him, presumably because Black provides his voice. They aren’t amusing enough to elicit much more than a mild chuckle, though.

As for the rest of the voice talent, they’re generally adequate but, in spite of the starry quality, less distinctive than one might expect. Hong is once again the standout, with Hoffman making the most of his brief opportunities as the miniature Yoda. The rest of the performers are perfectly adequate, but unexceptional.

Still, there are the visuals—and they are frequently extraordinary, from the opening prologue (done in the style of Chinese shadow puppets) through the fireworks explosions of the finale. It’s a pity that the story the makers have contrived isn’t really worthy of them.

ALIENS IN THE ATTIC

C

The fact that it wasn’t pre-screened for critics might make you expect the worst of this kidflick, but “Aliens in the Attic” isn’t all that bad. In fact, if it were being shown on one of the family cable networks, it would be something adolescent boys in particular would enjoy. It’s out of place on the big screen, though, except for the most undemanding audiences.

The title pretty much says it all. The Pearson family—Stuart (Kevin Nealon), Nina (Gillian Vigman), their children Bethany (Ashley Tisdale), Tom (Carter Jenkins) and Hannah (Ashley Boettcher)—along with Stuart’s brother Nathan (Andy Richter) and his sons Jake (Austin Butler) and twins Art and Lee (Henri and Regan Young) and the kids’ grandma (Doris Roberts)—are vacationing at a Michigan lake house. (Curious geographic note: they’re shown leaving Chicago and arriving at their destination after a brief road trip, which suggests the makers didn’t look very closely at a map.) The place is invaded by four little creatures from the planet Zircon with a mission to recover a device buried under the house that will initiate an invasion of earth. And since the critters have a lobotomizing gun that can turn adults into helpless automatons—a fate that befalls not only granny but Ricky (Robert Hoffman), Bethany’s smarmy college boyfriend—it’s up to the kids to defeat them and save not only their family but the world.

I suspect it will come as no surprise that they do.

Much of the picture is devoted to slapstick battles between the CGI creatures (voiced by Thomas Haden Church, Josh Peck, Ashley Peldon and Kari Wahlgren) and the children, but time’s taken out for some heart-to-hearts between Tom, a smart kid who’s tanking his classes in order not to be thought a nerd (the experience with the aliens makes himself understand the value of knowledge, of course), and his dad, and even more violent action involving Ricky, who’s turned into a sort of crazy elastic man under alien control, and grandma (a big martial-arts fight between the two after the kids get granny’s control device is supposed to be the piece de resistance, but is taken too far). The big twist—though it’s hardly a surprise—is that one of the scouting party turns out to be nice and becomes the kids’ ally. And at the end there’s a “Power Rangers” moment when two of the critters grow to gigantic size and face off against each other.

The effects in “Aliens in the Attic” look pretty ordinary in this day and age, but they’d certainly pass muster on the small screen. It’s unfortunate that the “good” alien so closely resembles E.T. (adding an extra pair of arms isn’t really much of a disguise), and that his final goodbye is so closely modeled on Spielberg’s film (John Debney’s music even recalls John Williams’ at that point). But the youngsters are an appealing bunch, though Boettcher should have been reined in by director John Schultz a bit—her mugging is right out of a bad sitcom—and Tisdale comes off rather shrill. The adults are another matter. Nealon, as usual, italicizes every line, Richter’s doofus routine gets old fast, and Tim Meadows’ turn as the local sheriff is so laid-back it might have been phoned in. Roberts, looking very frail, doesn’t have the comic timing she once did (and should have been spared a gag about her dentures), while Hoffman—or his CGI double—chews the scenery, which is what he’s expected to do, and kids will love his “stuntwork.”

There’s some of the same sort of simple highjinks here found in such earlier kidflicks like “Sky High” and “How to Eat Fried Worms,” and the picture doesn’t descend to the level of stuff like the “Spy Kids” movies. But it lacks magic, and except as a harmless diversion for the youngsters in a rainy afternoon, you can safely hold off until it shows up on DVD.