Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Starring Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, and Steve Martin. Directed by Joe Dante. Written by Larry Doyle. Rated PG.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Case of Acme

Looney Tunes: Back in Action works out the Bugs and gets its act together.

By KRISTIAN LIN

The last time we saw Bugs Bunny, he and the rest of the Looney Tunes crowd were shilling for the Michael Jordan publicity machine in Space Jam. It was a disgraceful showing that made Mickey Mouse’s move into semi-retirement look all the wiser a decision. Those old enough to remember that disaster from seven years ago may well face the prospect of Looney Tunes: Back in Action with some trepidation. Well, don’t fear. It’s no masterpiece, but Bugs and the rest of the pack are recognizably themselves again in this modestly enjoyable film.

Many of the classic Looney Tunes shorts had plentiful jokes about the cartoon characters being stars in the real-life Hollywood, and this one’s no different. The plot begins with a spat between Bugs and Daffy Duck, who once again complains about eternally being Bugs’ second fiddle and gets himself fired by a Warner Bros. executive (Jenna Elfman), a corporate type filled with new ideas about brand extension and demographics. The three of them, along with a studio security guard (Brendan Fraser) who is also a stunt double for Brendan Fraser, get sucked into a battle with the evil chairman of the Acme Corp. (Steve Martin) over a device that could turn the earth’s population into monkeys.

The movie starts off slowly, but once the plot gets going ... oh, who are we kidding? Nobody cares about the plot. Director Joe Dante (the Gremlins movies) and screenwriter Larry Doyle (tv’s The Simpsons and Beavis and Butt-head) use the time-tested method of firing as many gags at us as possible and seeing how many of them stick. Enough of them do to make this thing worthwhile: Porky Pig and Speedy Gonzalez commiserating over being sidelined because of political correctness, Shaggy giving the real-life Matthew Lillard a hard time over his portrayal of him in Scooby-Doo, Tweety Bird discovering that he’s an African-American. Andy Warhol fans will get a kick out of seeing Mary Woronov as an Acme executive who falls in love with the chairman, and fans of Invasion of the Body Snatchers will fall out of their seats at Kevin McCarthy’s appearance, complete with an alien pod. The best sequence is the one in which Elmer Fudd chases Bugs and Daffy through various paintings in the Louvre. The sophistication of this rapid-fire high-art parody matches what Looney Tunes did in their heyday.

Comedy like that is enough to overcome the stuff that doesn’t work, such as the pointless Psycho parody. The human actors could be part of the set decoration for all the material they’re given (Martin hams up a storm trying to compete with the cartoon characters — it doesn’t work), but the filmmakers realize who their stars are and let Bugs and Daffy run the show. It takes a couple of wily coyotes to do that.


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