Monday, July 21, 2008

Space Chimp Review - Look and laughs lost in 'Space'


"Space Chimps" sucks a whole lot of talented people into a wormhole of lousy. The film either needed to be a lot wittier to make up for the way it looks, or a lot better-looking to compensate for the funny it isn't.

Vanguard Animation is responsible for the eerie inexpressiveness of the visual style, and along with production designer Bo Welch, the "H.R. Pufnstuf" color scheme of the planet upon which our three space chimps crash-land. They're on a rescue mission to recover a lost space probe. That's already more than you need to know plotwise.

The legit astro-simians, Titan and Luna, are voiced by Patrick Warburton and Cheryl Hines. The punk, victim of a political public relations scam, is a preening egotist with a secret self-loathing streak, grandson of the chimp we actually did put up in space. Andy Samberg does what he can with the role. But when Luna, the one Ham's macking on for 82 minutes, describes him as "kind of funny in an incredibly annoying way," she's a very easy grader indeed.

The planet they visit is ruled by Zartog ( Jeff Daniels, in ninny-hysteric mode), while the script is ruled by many, many permutations of the word "chimp"—"We'll just have to chimprovise," etc. Then the characters start making comments about how many chimp puns there are in "Space Chimps." Which is amusing in theory and deadly in practice.

What I find galling is the lazy preference for jokes that the adults will get, though not necessarily laugh at while they're getting it. "Airplane!" references? David Bowie? A banana-in-your-pocket gag, in a G-rated picture? Great animation from the golden age riffed on all sorts of pop culture flotsam and jetsam, but the pacing and the wit was tops, and the visual flair was remarkable. "Space Chimps" is merely likely to transform your impressionable pre-teen into a grating wiseacre, until this short but loooooong feature's effects wear off.

MPAA rating: G.

Running time: 1:21 Opening: July 18.

Starring the voices of: Andy Samberg (Ham III); Cheryl Hines (Luna); Kenan Thompson (Ringmaster); Stanley Tucci (Senator); Kristin Chenoweth (Kilowatt); Patrick Warburton (Titan); Jeff Daniels (Zartog).

Directed by: Kirk DeMicco; written by DeMicco and Rob Moreland; animation by Vanguard Animation; edited by Tom Finan; music by Chris Bacon and Blue Man Group; production designed by Bo Welch; produced by John H. Williams and Barry Sonnenfeld. A Twentieth Century Fox release.

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