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.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
You can’t buy happiness so why not waste millions of dollars betting on illegal drag races between rare exotic cars. That’s just what L.A. pimp/record producer Infamous (Eddie Griffin) movie mogul Jerry (Tim Matheson) and a sociopath counterfeiter known to his family as Uncle Mike (Angus MacFadyen) like to do with their free time and seemingly endless piles of cash. These guys will gamble on just about anything: For example they bet $1 million Uncle Mike’s nephew can drive from L.A. to Las Vegas in under two hours. An impossible feat made more so by driving at night racing at speeds of over 200 mph through windy desert roads using special night goggles and zipping past CHiPs unnoticed like the Road Runner. But the annual multi-million dollar race is coming and Infamous needs a driver. Enter the movie’s hero and narrator Natasha (Nadia Bjorlin) who has retired from racing and is busy pimping rides and fronting a hair-metal band. After some teasers the mega-stakes illegal drag race kicks off deep in the Nevada desert where a fatal mistake costs one racer their life and another their freedom. The script gives little if any help to the actors in this scattered camp-fest meets a misogynistic hip-hop video—starting with funnyman Eddie Griffin basically doing standup and one-liners throughout. Angus MacFadyen (Saw III) brings some presence to the drowning film with his shell-shocked Martin Sheen/Apocalypse Now parody—strange drunken dances to boot. Veteran actor and man of a thousand bad parts Tim Matheson--who has managed to stay afloat with B movies since his glory days as Eric “Otter” Stratton in Animal House--actually seems to be having a little fun here. Sadly though the rest of the supporting cast is easily forgettable and at times comes off a little too much like the cast of a late night Cinemax skin-flick. Too bad Redline is PG-13. Redline is Andy Cheng’s (End Game) second time helming a feature film but he is no stranger to movie sets as his past credits include a myriad of stunt coordination work in films like Rush Hour and The Scorpion King. A lot of his early work was spent on Jackie Chan films which explains a lot about his directing style with Redline. Part of the charm of a Jackie Chan film is well Jackie Chan and all his amazing moves but take out Chan and leave the ridiculous cartoon characters and inane plots that surround his Hong Kong reels and you have Redline. Amidst the awkward one-liners and misplaced acrobatic fight scenes choreographed to unidentifiable hip-hop music some of the car races--as when a Porsche 911 takes on a $1.2 million Ferrari Enzo--are actually quite cool. This is where Cheng really shows his chops and he makes the most of his limited resources creating a really tacky however absolutely superbly bad-funny cult classic. Redline would have made an excellent double-feature back in 1975 alongside Death Race 2000 boasting: “See the world in the year 2007 where decadence rules and reckless millionaires live and die by fast cars and even faster women.”