Looney Tunes - Back In Action
Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck--the yin and the yang of Warner Bros.' classic Looney Tunes--are indeed back in action when they find themselves in an over-the-top misadventure with a bunch of overacting humans.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action revisits an age-old Tunes question: Why does the affable Bugs reap all the fame and glory while the egocentric Daffy gets shafted again and again? Our duck friend, quite frankly, has had it up to his skinny neck playing second fiddle to the carrot muncher. All Daffy wants is a little recognition from the studio, but the brothers Warner (actual twin brothers, as we come to find out) decide instead to let Daffy out of his contract on the advice of their no-nonsense VP of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Bugs, however, knows they're making a mistake. Even though Daff bears the brunt of the abuse, Looney Tunes would fail without him, and Bugs convinces the powers that be they need the nutty mallard. If the plot had only followed this thread--perhaps showing Daffy on the skids--then maybe the film wouldn't have spiraled into Looneyville. Unfortunately, Daffy ends up hooking up with the hunky D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser), a studio security guard who finds out that his famous movie star father Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is really a secret agent hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey, a supernatural gem that can turn the planet's population into monkeys. The evil head of the Acme Corporation, Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin), wants the diamond for his own diabolical plans, and he's kidnapped D.J.'s dad in an effort to get it. Now the gang has to get the diamond, save D.J.'s dad and, of course, save the world.
It might be a little hard to act subtly around cartoon characters, but these aren't your ordinary, cutesy Mickey Mouse types. Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn are pros at comic timing, able to spar with the best of them, throw out zingers without a second thought and slay you with a droll glance at the camera. It isn't really necessary for the human actors to match their madcap-ness; just reacting would have sufficed. Fraser comes off the best of the human bunch; since he's had practice (Monkeybone), he easily interacts with his animated co-stars and deftly handles the doubletakes and jabs at pop culture. Elfman, on the other hand, sputters and goes bug-eyed every time she encounters silliness. She looks uncomfortable doing the green screen thing, especially when she's trying to look natural when peeling a distraught duck from around her waist. Martin's highly anticipated turn as Mr. Chairman turns out to be the biggest disappointment. The over-the-top character is reminiscent of Martin's hysterically funny Rupert the Monkeyboy in 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but Martin turns Mr. Chairman--an angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair who never grew up--into a caricature of ridiculous proportions and, unlike Rupert, who came in small, hilarious doses, Mr. Chairman gets very tiresome, very quickly.
Back in Action's animation is well done, more engaging and ambitious than its 1996 predecessor Space Jam, in which the action mostly took place in Looney Tunes land; here, animated characters go the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? route, and Bugs, Daffy and the rest coexist harmoniously with humans in the real world. But despite its aspirations, Back in Action leaves out vital elements that made Space Jam appealing. While the earlier film stuck to a simple plot, Back in Action, guided by director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers, The 'Burbs), tries too hard to keep things wild and wacky while incorporating elements of '60s heist pics and action-adventure scenes, and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids movie: the story. Tykes may have limited attention spans, but if the story's good they will watch. Granted, some individual bits are laugh-out-loud funny, particularly the scene in the Warner Bros. commissary, where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales, while an animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo berate actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy as such a bonehead in the live-action Scooby-Doo. These scenes prove that if any cartoon characters could pass themselves off as real celebrities in the entertainment industry, the gang from Looney Tunes could, but moments like these simply can't overcome a contrived plot and juvenile antics.
It's James Bond! It's Indiana Jones! It's Ocean's Eleven! It's too much. Looney Tunes: Back in Action misses out on a brilliant opportunity to tell a simple story about a rabbit vs. a duck.