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.
Peanut butter and jelly aren't the only things that go together for Edward Burns. The actor-writer-director can't resist casting his latest ingenues in his latest projects.
First there was Maxine Bahns in "The Brothers McMullen" and "She's the One." Then there was the interlude with Jim Carrey's ex, Lauren Holly, in "No Looking Back." Up next: current galpal Heather Graham in his new romantic comedy "Sidewalks of New York."
The indie project, set in New York (obviously), interweaves several modern love stories. Co-stars include actor-filmmaker Stanley Tucci, "Light It Up's" Rosario Dawson and "Girl, Interrupted's" Brittany Murphy. In his standard do-it-all fashion, Burns serves as the director, writer and producer.
Daily Variety reports that shooting will begin Wednesday in Gotham.
Burns, 32, and Graham, 30, began dating in 1998.
THE CONTENDERS: "The Insider's" Michael Mann may have the skinny on the director's chair for the planned big-screen Muhammad Ali biopic.
Columbia Pictures and producer Jon Peters have met with several A-listers to direct the Will Smith-toplined project. Variety says the contenders are Mann, Spike Lee and Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential").
A final decision is expected soon. The studio has been looking for a candidate since "Wild Wild West" director Barry Sonnenfeld exited last fall. The story follows the pre-Ali days when the fighter was simply an up-and-coming buck named Cassius Clay.
Mann's name comes into play just days after he earned three Oscar nominations for directing, writing and producing "The Insider." Also on Mann's list of possible projects are a few other box-office heavyweights. He's met with Brad Pitt about "Shooter," a story that follows a sniper lured out of retirement and then betrayed; and he's developing a Howard Hughes biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio. (Leo's also attached to Mann's cops-and-corruption tale "The Inside Man.") Plus, there's an epic Mann's producing with Tom Hanks about Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great -- two dead Roman leader guys.
FLOATING ON 'FEATHERS': New sensation Jude Law won't be resting on that Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for long. Variety says "The Talented Mr. Ripley" co-star has committed to the lead role in "Four Feathers," a project that begins shooting in July.
"Elizabeth's" Shekhar Kapur will be at the helm for the Paramount/Miramax co-production. The movie's a remake of the Zoltan Korda tale about a British officer who resigns before battle and is given four white feathers by his fiancŽe and friends to remind him of his cowardice.
Law's also looking to position himself as "The Good Shepherd" in an MGM pic to be directed by Robert De Niro. The actor recently read for the Erich Roth script, about a CIA agent recruited during the agency's early World War II-era days. Over time, the responsibility of being a secret agent begins to take its toll on his family life.
"Shepherd" would preoccupy the actor's time come early 2001.