Tag Archives: D

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE

Grade: D-

The (deliberately) idiotic plot of this bigscreen version of
the beloved old cartoon series involves a television network
programmed to broadcast shows so bad that they will “zombify”
the entire population of the U.S. Presumably if such a network
becomes a reality, it will show this picture regularly, perhaps
rotating it with that similar disaster from a previous era,
1986’s “Howard the Duck.”

One might have thought that the failure of last year’s “Dudley
Do-Right” would have alerted filmmakers to how difficult it is
to transfer a Jay Ward animated short into live-action feature
terms, despite the modest success of the earlier “George of the
Jungle” (1997). Generally speaking attempts at live-action
reworkings of old TV cartoons are a bad idea, but Ward’s
pieces, with their incessant punning and situations designed
to provoke groans as much as laughs, were designed to be short
and sweet, not dragged out interminably for ninety minutes,
so stretching them out to feature length is especially tricky.
(It’s revealing that the only good part of “Dudley” was the
animated Fractured Fairy Tale that preceded the feature.)
The “Rocky and Bullwinkle” franchise should have been approached
with particular care, since an earlier effort, the infamous
“Boris and Natasha,” was so awful that it wasn’t even released
upon its completion in 1988 (it eventually showed up on cable
in 1992, where it promptly disappeared–mercifully).

Of course the current flick is a much bigger production, with
the support (and participation) of Robert De Niro, but that
just makes it a greater fiasco. Actually the first five
minutes will offer some amusement to those brought up on the old
series; they’re animated in the style of the show, and the
gags, while obvious, keep its spirit, too (especially those
dealing with the “retirement” of moose and squirrel). Then,
unfortunately, we’re brought into the modern era, and while
the two animals are kept in (computer-generated) cartoon form,
everybody else becomes “human.” So Jason Alexander and Rene
Russo play Boris and Natasha, and De Niro Fearless Leader.
People like Janeane Garofalo, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters,
John Goodman, Nikolodeon’s Kenan and Kel, David Alan Grier,
Jon Polito and Don Novello show up for cameo bits, many with
little more than a line of dialogue and a few seconds of screen
time. And Randy Quaid and Piper Perabo are introduced as the
FBI director and one of his agents who undertake to recruit
R&B to foil their old enemies once again.

But despite the presence of all this talent, “Rocky” never
takes wing. There are any number of reasons. For one thing,
the moose and squirrel were always the least interesting
figures in the old show, and here, interacting with live-action
beings in the fashion of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) or
“Space Jam” (1996), they’re no funnier than they ever were–
especially Bullwinkle, whose extra-dumb act grows stale
awfully fast. Then, while a picture like “Roger Rabbit”
succeeded by creating a distinctive universe in which “toons”
and “humans” credibly interacted, Kenneth Lonergan’s script
never manages to offer any even amusingly stupid rationale
behind the juxtaposition here. Finally–and most
destructively–the real people in the picture are simply
dreadful, flesh-and-blood individuals with cartoon mentalities
who must careen through utterly insipid situations and dialogue.
Alexander and Russo prove no better at being Boris and Natasha
than Dave Thomas and Sally Kellerman did in 1988–which means
they’re excruciating. But De Niro is even worse. Perhaps
Bob thought it would be amusing for him to recite the best-
remembered line of “Taxi Driver” with a bad German accent in
a leather military outfit, but he was wrong; quite simply,
the picture loses whatever energy it might have had every
time De Niro comes on the screen, with deadening effect. None
of the other non-cartoon performers survive the debacle, either
(John Goodman comes closest); but then they weren’t given any
reasonable chance of doing so by the inane, dull-witted script.

The picture was directed by Des McAnuff; in the spirit of
Bullwinkle’s incessant punning, let’s just say that he doesn’t
DoAnuff to give the piece the slightest hint of sparkle or
imagination. Like “The Flintstones,” “Inspector Gadget,” and
“Dudley Do-Right” before it, “The Adventures of Rocky and
Bullwinkle” doesn’t so much celebrate the old series on which
it’s based as cause you to wonder why you look back on it with
affection in the first place. Still, those opening five
minutes have a certain nostalgic charm. Just be sure to leave
when they’re over.

BOYS AND GIRLS

Grade: D

The strictly generic title of this new vehicle for Freddie
Prinze, Jr. is quite appropriate, given that it’s little more
than a formulaic recycling of the will-the-guy-get-the-girl-
who’s-obviously-meant-for-him plot which John Hughes regularly
used, though with steadily diminishing returns, in his teen
comedies of the late eighties. One of the few distinctions of
this version is that it sets the story on a college campus
rather than in a highschool–which at least means that we’re
spared a resolution at the senior prom. Another difference,
unfortunately, is that the situations provided by the
first-time scripters credited collectively as The Drews (Andrew
Lowery and Andrew Miller) are extraordinarily contrived, and
the dialogue remarkably arch; the writers are clearly out to
engage both the funnybone and the heart, but since nothing that
happens over the course of the 90-minute running time seems
remotely true–everything has the coarseness and superficial
character of strained situation comedy–the result is anemic
at best.

We first meet Ryan as a nerdy twelve-year old on an airplane
ready to depart (he’s played in this first scene by Brendon
Ryan Barret, but Prinze soon takes over); seated beside him
is Jennifer (Raquel Beaudene in the initial sequence, then
Claire Forlani), a loquacious thing who’s just had her first
period and is anxious to tell the poor boy about the experience.
The two bicker for a couple of minutes until the scene changes
abruptly to four years later, when the pair meet again at a
highschool football game. They squabble once more, and we then
lurch ahead two more years, when Ryan and Jennifer bump into
one another on the Berkeley campus, with the former an incoming
freshman and the latter a world-wise, and still terribly
loquacious, junior. Ultimately they bond while commiserating
over their respective romantic difficulties, and become the
best of (platonic) friends. The big question then arises–
whether the two will ever realize that they’re meant for one
another and overcome their fear that if they grow romantically
attached, their friendship will suffer. No one who’s ever seen
a movie will be much surprised by the outcome.

This sort of fluff can occasionally work despite its shopworn
character, but in this case the cast isn’t strong enough to
overcome the script deficiencies. Prinze is, as usual, an
amiable enough fellow, but as an actor he remains pretty much
a blank, pretty face. To be sure, he tries to vary his usual
routine by trying some geeky stuff at the beginning, wearing
black-rimmed glasses and unflattering clothes and stumbling
about like a miniature Clark Kent. But not too far in, these
affectations are dismissed and he becomes the same bland, though
photogenic, hunk he was in “She’s All That” and “Down to You.”
Forlani is probably a technically more accomplished performer,
but the Drews’ material makes her come across as surprisingly
irritating here; she rather resembles, both in appearance
and in aggressive style, a younger version of Barbra Striesand,
and that’s hardly an ingratiating thing. Forlani is also
compelled to spout Latin phrases from time to time (she’s an
intellectual Classics major, you see)–a practice which
makes Jennifer seem like an affected twit–and to recite not
one but two of those awful monologues in which a character
loudly addresses a bunch of hapless bystanders; such moments
are supposed to be charming, of course, but they’re almost
always embarrassingly flat, as is sadly true in this instance.

Naturally the couple is provided with the wacky buddies that
are required by the formula–in this case their roommates,
played by Jason Biggs and Amanda Detmer. Biggs, who won some
attention in “American Pie,” is the stereotypically horny
dude who’s always unlucky at love, and his constant come-on
attempts are far too broad to be funny; he’s also the focus
of a truly awful sequence played against the end titles,
involving the inevitable flatulence jokes. (One can only
suppose that there wasn’t room for the piece in the picture
itself, but somebody thought it too good to throw away; bad
mistake). Detmer is suitably dippy as Jennifer’s closest
friend, but there’s a moment near the close concerning their
relationship that comes so far out of left field that it’s an
almost gruesomely puzzling miscalculation. Nobody else in the
cast is given time to make much of an impreesion, including
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Alyson Hannigan, who appears
briefly as Ryan’s highschool sweetheart.

Director Robert Iscove, who previously directed Prinze in “She’s
All That,” manages to secure some nice shots of the San
Francisco area, but his handling of the actors is perfunctory
at best, and matters aren’t made any better by the editing of
Casey Rohrs, who allows scenes to drag on far too long. Still,
in most respects the picture looks better than many examples
of the genre; veteran cinematographer Ralph Bode is still
doing good work.

You have to give “Boys and Girls” some credit for at least
attempting to say something about modern notions of friendship
and commitment. It’s a pity that what it eventually comes up
with is so stale and trite.