15 September 2004 | Buddy-51
Fairly dreadful film
I bow to no one in my love and admiration for those classic Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1940's and 1950's. Like so many of my generation, I was virtually raised on these works from infancy on up. Yet, for those of us who are die-hard aficionados, 'Looney Tunes: Back in Action' is a decidedly depressing experience, proving, once again, that when it comes to revisiting one's childhood, a person truly can't go home again.
This is not, of course, a re-visitation in its purest form, since 'Back in Action,' like 1996's 'Space Jam,' is actually a modernized hybrid combining live action with animation. And that, perhaps, is the single greatest problem with this film. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and the rest of the gang clearly feel more at home in their own two-dimensional world in which the laws of nature have no jurisdiction. Yank them out of that context and stick them into the 'real world' with a bunch of overacting humans and their unique charm begins to drain away and dissipate. Unfortunately, both the cartoon characters and the humans with whom they are interacting are stuck with a dreary, largely unfunny script that substitutes pandemonium and movement for cleverness and wit (qualities the original cartoons had in abundance). The spy tale writer Larry Doyle has come up with is stultifying in its stupidity and reminds us of just why the Warner Brother originals, which were masterpieces of minimalist storytelling, ran for ten or fifteen minutes and no longer. Expanding the story to almost ten times that length stretches the already flimsy material far past the breaking point.
There are a few moments of inspired fun, such as when Bugs and Daffy, followed by an irate Elmer Fudd, jump in and out of art masterpieces in the Louvre, wreaking havoc as they go, or when our intrepid band of heroes encounters a secret Area 51-type government project in the desert inhabited by a coterie of creatures from 1950's 'B' movie classics. In fact, the movie has quite a bit of fun with 'in' movie references that adults are far more likely to get than the children who clearly make up the bulk of this movie's audience. But those moments of inspiration are few and far between, and most of the time we are stuck in a fairly dismal comedy overall. The blending of live action and animation, under the guidance of director Joe Dante, is pretty much state-of-the-art, though these particular cartoon characters have more charm when they are two, rather than three, dimensional in form.
Brendan Fraser, as a stunt man who goes in search of his kidnapped father with Bugs and Daffy along for the ride, makes an appealing hero, although the usually likable Jenna Elfman succeeds mainly in being annoying. Timothy Dalton has a nothing part as Fraser's dad, a legendary movie actor who turns out to be a spy off screen as well as on. Heather Locklear, Joan Cusack, Roger Corman, and Kevin McCarthy also make brief appearances, but the single worst job of acting is turned in by an overwrought and over-wound Steve Martin, who as the diabolical head of the Acme Corporation, delivers a ham handed performance of monumental badness.
Lovers of The WB cartoons had best stick with the originals.