A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Sadly The Matrix sequel suffers from too much anticipation too much talk and too much action--an obtuse shitstorm apparently resulting from writer/directors the Wachowski brothers' theory that if they throw enough at you something's gotta stick. While the first movie's wow-inducing special effects and groundbreaking action scenes supported the story's mythology and ruminations about consciousness and free will Reloaded beats you over the head with philosophical mumbo-jumbo and pointless battles that will convince you The Matrix series is really meant for 15-year-old boys into video games. In a nutshell the ruling artificial intelligence (the nebulous vague "Machines") has learned humans are running amok in a place called Zion so 250 000 Sentinels are on their way to take care of biz once and for all. Renegade Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) insisting that "The One" will save the world ventures in and out of the Matrix with Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to fight the Machines while the less courageous rest of humanity stays underground to prepare for battle the old-fashioned way. Meantime Neo wants to find out what's behind his strange premonitory dreams--that we get to see over and over and over--of Trinity meeting her demise.
Forget the "real world" melancholy of The Matrix the shock and awe of its special effects its lines of cryptic cyber-wisdom that made little sense but were entertainingly apropos. The new and returning faces of Reloaded are barely more than haute-couture wearing Zen-spouting caricatures stuck in bad CGI sets with just about as little idea of what they're doing there as the audience has. Their lines alternate between theological psychobabble: "If you know what I know then I know you know"; Neo's statements of the obvious: "I wish I knew what I was supposed to do"; and Morpheus bellowing pompous speeches like Demosthenes on Quaaludes: "Izznn't thaaat worth dyyying fooorr!" Despite playing all 200-plus Agent Smiths Hugo Weaving has little to do or say other than smirk evilly although when he's on-screen the movie regains a little of its predecessor's life. Neo and Trinity are either busy kicking ass or making out which is great because it keeps them from reciting any more trite and silly dialogue. Reeves wisely sticks to his strong silent Neo and Moss proves herself yet again to be a terrific action heroine who doesn't need to say a lot to make her point--its a shame the script sold them short. Lambert Wilson is amusing as campily evil Frenchie Merovingian and the late Gloria Foster is a lovely breath of fresh air in her all-too-brief appearance as the Oracle--her scene with Neo is one of the film's most--er few--engaging.
You can practically see the perforation in the film at those scenes that should've been left on the editing floor. To wit: The first 40 minutes offer up development of new characters you couldn't care less about boring interplay between those returning and an introduction to Zion (hardly a fantastically realized human oasis but rather an endless well of crisscrossing walkways that lead nowhere unless it's to some underground Versace factory that pumps out everyone's stylie leather jackets and sunglasses). Things really get bizarre when Morpheus announces to the populace that um humans have only 72 hours to kill the Machines or be killed which somehow compels his audience to break into a heaving groping stomping techno-hippie orgy (1 000 years in the future and we still have drum circles?!) as Trinity and Neo are somewhere else getting it on in perfect sync with this impromptu inexplicable Afro-Asian cave rave. The film does offer up some seamlessly slick albeit ultimately pointless and not that new special effects: Neo fights off multitudes of Agent Smiths although he could've just jetted away like Superman (it's 90 percent CGI 8 percent real and after 10 minutes 2 percent interesting); and a freeway chase has breath-stealing visuals that unfortunately lose some impact after 15 minutes. It's the speechifying that'll kill you though--by the time you get a clue to Neo's purpose on Earth in a mind-numbing diatribe of Baudrillardian hokum you'll want to get out of the theater faster than you can say Attack of the Clones.