A founder of the Creative Management Association and former talent agent for such Hollywood luminaries as Judy Garland, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Peter Sellers, Robert Redford, Liza Minnelli, Ryan O'N...
Imagine if you will the story of Pinocchio in reverse: Instead of a puppet turning into a human boy the opposite occurs. Now in place of the puppet substitute a humanoid robot with flight capabilities and advanced weaponry and you get Summit Entertainment's animated sci-fi flick Astro Boy.
If the concept sounds a tad bizarre it might help to know that Astro Boy’s roots stretch back to the world of Japanese manga comics where the idea of a boy dying and being reborn as a super-powered robot isn’t considered remotely unusual. Thankfully helping to make Astro Boy’s robot Lazarus more palatable to American audiences is Freddie Highmore who lends his considerable voice talents to both the titular robot and his human forebear Toby.
Little Toby absolutely worships his father Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) a gifted scientist famous for his innovations in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence.(Astro Boy is set in the distant somewhat dystopian future by the way.) Tenma serves as the lead science advisor for Metro City a high-tech utopia that floats high above Earth safely removed from the environmental wreckage on the surface below . He’s a busy man — so busy in fact that he doesn’t notice when his son wanders into a weapons testing area and perishes during one of his experiments.
Devastated Tenma does what any heartbroken father would do after the tragic death of his son: He extracts the memories from the boy’s DNA and uploads them into the CPU of a technologically advanced super-robot one who bears an uncanny resemblance to the deceased. Tenma soon finds however that his son’s robot doppelganger does nothing to alleviate his suffering. Consumed by regret he orders the robot boy dismantled.
But Toby 2.0 manages to avoid destruction with the help of another scientist Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy) who takes pity on the earnest all-too-human creation and he escapes to Earth’s surface. Amid the forgotten wasteland he befriends an Oliver-esque group of orphans is re-named Astro Boy and bests a handful of other robots in a giant battle royale.
No sooner does Astro Boy triumph against the mechanized gladiators than he is summoned back to Metro City where its megalomaniacal president General Stone (Donald Sutherland) has gone completely apes**t fusing with a powerful war machine (ironically dubbed “The Peacemaker”) and carving a destructive path through the metropolis. Soon the only thing that stands in the way of Metro City’s certain annihilation is the heroic Astro Boy whose compassion for his human friends we discover is anything but artificial.
With its simple message charming story and gorgeous retro-futuristic animation Astro Boy packs more than enough firepower to overcome the awkwardness of its premise the lulls in its storyline and the overall creepiness of Nicolas Cage (both his voice and his character). Dr. Tenma is an odd cat and Cage does little to endear him to the audience to the point that when father and robot son reconcile at the end their reunion feels hollow — and more than a little weird.
Initially Astro Boy takes a little too long trying to establish the father-son and father-robot dynamics when it should be fast-forwarding to the action. When the action does get going however the movie is consistently engrossing.
“Story” is a pejorative term when applied to The Comebacks. The entire concept of the film is basically an excuse to string together and spoof famous scenes from a variety of sports movies including Field of Dreams Bend It Like Beckham Seabiscuit Remember the Titans Rudy Invincible Stick It Drumline et al. David Koechner stars as Lambeau Fields the worst coach in the history of sports who takes one more stab at gridiron glory when he agrees to coach Heartland State University’s luckless football squad. Needless to say this assemblage of losers misfits and malcontents is turned into a winning team under Coach’s somewhat unorthodox tutelage. Unlike most coaches Fields encourages his players to cut class take drugs drink to excess and behave as badly as he does. It all culminates in the championship game (“The Toilet Bowl”) between Coach Fields’ Comebacks and the mighty Invincibles coached by Fields’ one-time friend-turned-rival Freddie Wiseman (Carl Weathers). Despite being down 35-0 at halftime the Comebacks...well you can guess the rest. The collective enthusiasm of the cast goes a long way toward keeping The Comebacks watchable. Koechner enjoying his first big-screen lead has a likable lunk-headed quality that makes Coach Fields an endearing idiot. Melora Hardin scores too as his neglected wife and Brooke Nevin is a looker as their rebellious teenage daughter who also happens to be a gymnastics wiz (Stick It anyone?). Weathers a one-time pro-football player before stardom (in Rocky beckoned) has a good time playing the duplicitous Coach Wiseman and some of the more memorable members of the Comebacks include Matthew Lawrence Jackie Long Noureen DeWulf and Robert Ri’chard. A lot of familiar faces turn up in cameo roles: Will Arnett Dax Shepard Jonathan Gries Kerri Kenney Jillian Grace Eric Christian Olsen Stacy Kiebler Frank Caliendo (doing his impressions of John Madden and Al Michaels) and Andy Dick whose role as the referee during the climactic football game isn’t big enough for him to be as truly annoying as he can be. (That’s a good thing.) Not surprisingly a number of real-life sports personalities turn up in cameos as well: Dennis Rodman (as a prison warden no less!) Michael Irvin Eric Dickerson Lawrence Taylor John Salley Chris Rose and Bill Buckner (reprising his infamous error from the 1986 World Series). Director Tom Brady not to be mistaken for the New England Patriots quarterback previously directed the 2002 Rob Schneider vehicle The Hot Chick. This is unquestionably an improvement. The Comebacks may be dumb--intentionally so--but it’s never dull. There are a good number of groans along with laughs but the film never really runs out of steam. The football scenes are surprisingly well-rendered and are realistic enough that they could easily have come from a straightforward football movie--without the punch lines of course. There’s a pretty even ratio between the gags that work and the ones that don’t and the film’s formula seems to be: When all else fails hit below the belt with repeated crotch jokes. Those looking for a sophisticated highbrow comedy should look elsewhere.
A founder of the Creative Management Association and former talent agent for such Hollywood luminaries as Judy Garland, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Peter Sellers, Robert Redford, Liza Minnelli, Ryan O'Neal, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen and Woody Allen.