With his Oscar nominated documentary attacking the fast food industry Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock--who ate McDonalds hamburgers non-stop for a month--found the perfect subject matter in which to insert his everyman persona. He repeated the formula every week on his cable series 30 Days and has now returned to the big screen to try it again this time as an American citizen travelling to the Middle East to do what the Government can’t: find Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately using the war on terror as a vehicle for comedy is at best uneven and at worst tasteless. Spurlock leaves his very pregnant wife at home as he travels to Jordan Egypt Israel Afghanistan Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on a mission to find the famed 9/11 mastermind and make the world a better place for his soon-to-be-born baby. Before he hits the road we watch him mug for the cameras as he gets shots and trains to fight terrorists ‘Rambo-style’. Oy. The bulk of the film finds him alternately asking average joes on the streets if they have seen Osama in the neighborhood lately and worrying about getting back in time for his kid’s birth. As his journey proceeds he gets progressively more serious and philosophical a turn that doesn’t jive with the film’s more whimsical earlier portions. As this is technically a documentary acting doesn’t apply except Spurlock really is playing a character he honed in Super Size Me and his series the everyday guy who inserts himself into unfamiliar places and lifestyles in order to make a point. He’s Michael Moore-light literally and figuratively--an approach that has proven to be amusing in the past but here just feels wrong. His goal apparently is to show that people are really all just the same around the world--same concerns same fears and what really matters in the end is making it a safe place for your own family. Nice thoughts Morgan but it doesn’t really work this time around. Spurlock stars co-writes and directs using a tiresome framing device of a video game that helps us figure out which countries he is in at any given time. As director his main goal seems to be keeping the camera on himself pretending that Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? is about anything other than Morgan Spurlock goes Middle Eastern. There are some memorable human encounters along the way specifically a local who wants to turn the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan--once thought to be the hiding place of Bin Laden--into an amusement park celebrating that fact. Low point is an uncomfortable sequence focusing on Israeli extremists trying to kick Spurlock out of their occupied territory letting him play the victim without shedding any light on why they react with such hatred towards Westerners. As with so much of his film you’re just left scratching your head and moving on to the next segment of a film that might better be titled What in the World Was Morgan Spurlock Thinking?
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.