Film Reviews: Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Iíve actress? A hunchback casts a wary eye at his invention in Igor.
Voices by John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, and Molly Shannon. Directed by Anthony Leondis. Written by Chris McKenna. Rated PG.
Good vs. Eva

Igor cobbles together spare parts and creates a lumbering monster of a movie.


Igor may not be one of the better movies you see this year, but itís certain to be one of the weirder ones. This animated film looks ordinary enough from the outside, with a ton of star names in the voice cast and a story about a downtrodden stock character who learns to stand up for himself. If you actually watch it, though, youíll see it spin off in all sorts of unpredictable directions. Itís not all that good, but then again, itís seldom dull.
The story takes place in a mythical kingdom called Malaria thatís darkened at all times by black storm clouds. Unable to grow crops, Malaria bases its national industry on creating weapons of mass destruction every year, while the king (voiced by Jay Leno) extracts a ransom from the rest of the world in exchange for not using them ó basically, the place is North Korea, only more surreal. In this kingdom, the laborers are all hunchbacks named Igor who work as slaves for the mad scientists who invent the weapons. The hero of this piece is one such Igor (voiced by John Cusack) whose dimwitted master (voiced by John Cleese) accidentally blows himself up a few days before the annual science fair at which Malaria unveils its new weapons. Igor sees a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of being an inventor, so he keeps his bossí death a secret and works on entering his own project.
The animation here is by a new French-Vietnamese firm called Sparx* Animation Studios, whose work is professional-caliber. The closest youíve likely seen to it is Tim Burtonís The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride ó the characters have spidery limbs and doll-like features, and the movieís visual imagination is archly morbid. Igorís friends include a suicidal rabbit named Scamper (voiced by Steve Buscemi) whoís been turned indestructible by an experiment gone wrong and spends his free time killing himself in various ways only to spring back to life unhurt. Thereís a reference to failed Igors being ďrecycled,Ē followed by a splendidly twisted gag involving a severed Igor head.
However, everything takes a decided left turn when it comes to Igorís invention, a giant woman built out of spare parts and brought to life, who mishears her creatorís exhortations to be evil and names herself ďEvaĒ (voiced by Molly Shannon). When Igor tries a Clockwork Orange-style brainwashing on her, sheís mistakenly exposed to an episode of Inside the Actors Studio and emerges as an aspiring actress instead of an all-destroying monster. Some beleaguered showbiz professionals might ask what the distinction is, but this plot development only raises the question of what relationship Malaria has with our world. The filmmakers should have kept this in the realm of fantasy, or at least gotten James Lipton to play a fantasy version of himself instead of his real self. Igor tries to get Eva to do his bidding by directing her the way a theatrical director would, but this only leads up a blind alley. The same goes for the romantic subplot between them, and the political rivalry between the king and Malariaís leading mad scientist (voiced by Eddie Izzard).
With such a scattered plot, itís no surprise that the tone of the movie is all over the place as well. Whenever the movie starts to settle into a groove of Gothic black humor, something arrives to dispel the mood, whether itís one of the 1950s Louis Prima swing numbers that dot the soundtrack for some reason or a bit of contemporary snarkiness. When Igor shows Scamper the special place where he goes to think, the rabbit responds, ďWhatís next? Are you gonna pull out a guitar and play a song you wrote in college about being misunderstood?Ē (The line and Steve Buscemiís delivery of it made me laugh, but itís still out of place.) The movieís climax is a vintage WTF moment as Eva finally goes on a destructive rampage while singing ďTomorrowĒ from the Broadway musical Annie. The juxtaposition is meant to be surreally terrifying, but itís just bizarre and makes you wonder why the filmmakers picked the song.
In the end, who is this movie for? Itís too dark and scary for smaller kids, but itís not dark and scary enough for the older ones, who want a bit of danger in their entertainment. It gestures toward political allegory, love story, and a fable about not letting your looks stand in the way of your dreams, but all these subjects have been treated more sharply in other movies. Igor shows all the signs of being a movie that tries to be many different things but ends up being none of them. To be sure, itís more interesting than the last two Shrek installments, but that only makes it an interesting failure.

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