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Halfway through filming "Back in
Action," Daffy comes to the
realization that he needs a new agent.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Review written by: Alex Sandell

I considered myself a lifelong fan of all things Looney Tunes.  I didn't even let the mediocre Space Jam tarnish my image of the crazy cartoon characters.  But nothing could prepare me for the unbelievable horribleness of this film.  There aren't enough variations on the word "awful" in the English language to adequately describe the movie.  Looney Tunes:  Back in Action is one of the least enjoyable family friendly 'comedies' in cinematic history.

The plot is a predictably stupid excuse to include a bunch of Looney moments.  Bugs and Daffy are filming a flick when Daffy gets all huffy over not being the star, and the humorless Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman), Vice President of Comedy at Warner Bros., fires the infamous duck for his latest tantrum.  On the same day, Houghton cans DJ Drake (Brendan Frasier), a security guard working on the lot, who also happens to be the son of the studio's biggest star, Damien Drake (Timothy Dalton).  If Houghton doesn't get Daffy back within a couple of days, she'll lose her job at the studio (her movies grossed 950 million, which "isn't a billion."). 

In the meantime, DJ and Daffy are discovering that DJ's dad, Damien Drake (Timothy Dalton) doesn't just play a spy in the movies, but actually is a spy.  Unfortunately, he's been kidnapped by Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin), the head of the ACME corporation.  Damien lets them know that they must find the Blue Monkey Diamond -- a magical item with the power to turn humans into monkeys -- before Mr. Chairman can turn all the world's humans into simians, willing to mass-produce ACME'S products, and then turn them back into humans, so they can buy the products that they just made.  It's Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets Spy Kids, minus every single thing that made each of those films so much fun to watch.   

There are about four-million recreations of classic Bugs and Daffy moments recreated in Back in Action, but something is missing from each of them... and it's not just Mel Blanc.  I seem to remember these classic cartoons actually being funny.  Somehow, Screenwriter Larry Doyle and Director Joe Dante have managed to suck the life out of even the most beloved Looney moments.  The film is a shameless product placement which only has two funny segments one regarding product placements.  When stranded in the desert, Daffy, DJ, Bugs and Kate see a mirage.  It's a gigantic Wal-Mart store.  They talk about what an obvious product placement it is, but Kate says that audience members are so used to these things now, they don't even notice them. 

On paper, there are a few dozen good jokes in the film.  Yet, I've never heard a crowded theater so silent during a "comedy."  You begin wondering why these gags aren't getting any laughs.  You begin to wonder why you aren't laughing.  Everything seems about two seconds off or two seconds too soon.  In the right hands, this would have been at least as competent a film as Space Jam.  If you could directly compare screenplays, I'd guess Back in Action would read as the better film.  I think a large chunk of the blame for the sheer suckiness of Back in Action can be placed on its director, Joe Dante.

Dante is still more obsessed with old movies that he loved as a kid than he is with the movie that he's currently making.  There's a scene at Area 52 (the joke involved is that "Area 51" was created by the Government to keep conspiracy theorists off the scent of the real Area 52) where just about every classic movie monster from "B" movies of the 50s and 60s is living in an oversized jar.  He also pays homage to the shower scene in Psycho (I have to admit that the Hershey syrup being poured into the tub was pretty funny).  Joe needs to pull his head out of the past.  Kids aren't going to get any of these references, and, after seeing one Dante film after another paying tribute to old sci-fi and horror flicks, adult film buffs are no longer going to care.  

Dante is also seemingly unable to direct actors.  He can't even get a laugh out of the usually hilarious Steve Martin.  Martin's performance is embarrassingly over-the-top.  He's sort of like Dr. Evil, except without all the funny stuff to say.  This is, without a doubt, his worst performance to date.  But, at least he's doing something.  Jenna Elfman seems to be in an entirely different film, and Brendan Frasier looks like he's looking at just about anything other than the animated characters he's supposed to be looking at.  Both actors do fine, but they're stuck in such thankless roles, I initially chalked their performances up as "lifeless."  The only performer who seems to grasp the fact that she's acting with animated characters is Joan Cusack. 

The people behind this movie should have an oversized ACME anvil dropped on their heads.  One second it seems to be criticizing child-labor (Mr. Chairman wants even younger workers to assemble ACME'S toys.  I think he finally settles on three-year-olds.), but the next it's doing a gargantuan product-placement for Wal-Mart.  You do the math on that one.  The film also shamelessly advertises other Warner Bros. projects.  There's a preview of the upcoming sequel to the live-action Scooby-Doo written into the flick as a "joke" (an animated Scooby and Shaggy are ticked at Matthew Lillard, for his portrayal of Shaggy in the original live-action Scooby film, and demand that he does better in the sequel).  Way to date the movie, Doyle and Dante.  And what's up with Taz?  One of the most popular Tunes, and he's relegated down to nothing more than a glorified fart joke.   

It's hard for me to type out anything positive about Back in Action, but there is one precious scene sandwiched smack-dab in the middle of all the shit.  It takes place at the Louvre museum in France.  Bugs and Daffy are pursued by Elmer Fudd through numerous classic paintings.  When they entered Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory," and began to slow down and melt, just like the classic clocks in the painting, I found myself laughing like a person should when watching Looney Tunes.

If only this one scene could be salvaged from the film and re-written as an animated short.  When will Warner Bros. realize that Looney Tunes is best in small doses?  And, for the love of Freleng, Jones, Avery and Blanc, will Warner please realize that Bugs, Daffy, Taz and the rest of the Looney Tunes don't need the help of a bunch of boring actors and/or basketball players to help them be funny?  They do just fine at that, all on their own.

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Coming soon -- Reviews of Cat in the Hat, The Haunted Mansion, Timeline and Master and Commander!

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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].