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.
Novelist Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho) once again probes the dark side with this look at a group of spoiled college brats at Camden College. The adaptation of his novel focuses on the parties ("The End of the World Party " the "Pre-Saturday Night Party " the "Dress To Get Laid Party") and following logically from there the ubiquitous hookups heavy petting and yes even rape--in this case of the drunkest girl at one of said parties. Walking us through the madhouse of debauchery is sometime student sometime drug dealer Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) whose propensity for wicked sexual exploits seemingly knows no bounds (yes his brother is indeed American Psycho's Patrick Bateman). Still Sean is in love although you can't tell from his behavior with Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon)--perhaps the only BVOC (that's Big Virgin on Campus) remaining on the planet. Lauren is in love with Victor (Kip Pardue) who's sleeping and drugging his way through Europe this semester and she used to be in love with Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder) who's now out of the closet and himself in love with Sean. See how it all comes full circle? The key goals of all the characters seem to be to get laid get drunk find pot smoke pot get laid again--all in the space of an evening. It's a fairly nihilistic existence--and one that the film staunchly refuses to comment upon or judge. This is just the way it is; watch at your own risk.
The young cast is right at home in the '80s college atmosphere and Van Der Beek in particular gives a fine performance as the guy you love to hate. He makes his several extreme close-ups more about developing his character than about making his face look prettier which is refreshing to see. Heck the guy even takes a dump on camera--he is not afraid. Sossamon as the only sympathetic character in the movie fares well too although in several scenes she's put in what I'll just call compromising positions. Jessica Biel as Sossamon's slutty roommate Lara spends most of her screen time rather unflatteringly on her back and from that position it's kind of hard to judge her performance. She seems believable enough. Somerhalder's Adonis looks complement his Wildean character whose façade of worldliness covers an insecurity that shows us the pitfalls of sophomoric homosexuality--but he's not afraid to let loose with a little childish joy either hamming it up like a pro in a Risky Business-like scene that has him dancing in his underwear on a hotel room bed with a new partner.
From The Rules of Attraction's first scenes which begin at a party then rewind to show how each character came to be there and how they came to be in their present condition director Roger Avary lifts what could have been another drug-addled film about the lives of self-indulgent college students from that particular cesspool and into the sometimes murkier realm of sordid realism. Throughout the movie you can almost feel the sticky beer-covered floor beneath your feet yet at the same time the college setting is almost coincidental to the underlying theme which seems to be that people are inherently hedonistic brutish and self-serving. Still because he insists on showing rather than telling Avary lets the scenes speak for themselves; he doesn't judge the characters or throw messages at the audience. That means that even as the end credits roll (backwards of course) you'll be thinking about his film--trying to work out exactly what it meant and what it says about desire love and human relations. And that can't be a bad thing.