Saturday, May 19, 2007
At the Movies: With any luck, Shrek The Third will be Shrek the Last; and we can only hope The Last Mimzy stays true to its title
So this was my first trek to the drive-in this summer (though the weather was in the 50's and 40's, hardly feeling like summer); hopefully I'll go a few more times before the place closes down for the fall. I loves the drive-in, you know? It's a unique experience, and a very American one (I know it's been copied in other countries since its 1932 genesis in Camden, New Jersey, but it strikes me as strongly American).
It's just a shame that the movies they show are always such shit. It's very rare I actually see a worthwhile movie at the drive-in, though it should be noted that seeing Jurassic Park at the drive-in on its opening day of June 11, 1993, was my first moviegoing experience and a defining moment in my life.
But just to show the crap I usually put up with to go to the glorious drive-in: Last year I had a double feature of Talladega Nights and Little Man, and felt like killing myself afterwards. However, seeing the Spider-Man movies at the drive-in (after midnight/early afternoon showings on opening day, of course) is a tradition (one I've yet to carry out for Spider-Man 3, though I caught snippets of it on the other screen tonight)...and I can say that I have now seen all three Shrek movies at the drive-in on their opening days.
But the series has never regained the heights of the first Shrek. Six years ago, in May 2001, Shrek was a witty, clever blast of refreshingly skewered fairy tale satire in the grand tradition of Fractured Fairy Tales and the like. It's still the only computer-animated film worthy of existing in the same realm as the gems thought up by Pixar (just forget about A Bug's Life). In these intervening six years, however, the skewered satire has become the norm, allowing for everything from Over the Hedge and Monster House to come along and borrow from its irreverence, never bettering or equalling it yet still managing solid laughs. This has made things harder for the Shrek franchise, and the danger signs were already apparent in 2004's Shrek 2: It's a pretty good flick, but already the formula feelt a bit tired and repetitive.
Now Shrek the Third doesn't just have the symptoms; it's the diagnosis plain and simple. Nothing new happens. Fantasy clichés are upturned. Rapid-fire pop culture references are had. Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, Puss in Boots, et al. once again have to go on some wacky quest while facing magical mistrials to prove that, Hey, don't judge your brothers, we're all Shiny Happy People! It's sad that none of this has any spark, zest, energy, or zing anymore. The important yet trite message that people are people no matter their outward appearance came across seemingly magical in the first, with that glorious transformation sequence at the end; in the second, it felt a little samey but overall pretty effective (like everything in Shrek 2); and in Shrek the Third, not even the title ogre and his bride seem to really care all that much.
The plot is interesting but lacks heart. King Harold (John Cleese) croaks (heehee, he's a frog, get it?), so Shrek (Mike Myers), with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) in tow, have to go to find Arthur (Just Timberlake), the only remaining heir, since Shrek doesn't want to take the crown. While the ogre's away, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) finally enacts his vengeance against Shrek by attacking the Land of Far Far Away with an army consisting of every fairy tale villain ever, and endangering the pregnant Fiona (Cameron Diaz). Charming actually has a pretty good twisted character arc, but it doesn't go anywhere, and the film's 92 minutes rush by, though not in a good way. It just comes and goes quietly, disposably, without flashing any of the edge the first film so hiply and unabashedly reveled in. Whereas once the Shrek movies mocked product, it now has become the exact same product. Oh well, can't capture lightning twice, let alone thrice.
And then the second feature I caught was The Last Mimzy, which did almost incline me to bust out the razorblades like I felt compelled to last year. The plot is pretty silly: Two Bad Child Actors (Chris O'Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) find some weird shit on a beach which ties into this thing this scientist was doing and then they're all special and have to save the world and...oh, fuck it. Who cares? All I got out if it was that the kids here reminded me of the fact that Rory Culkin is still the only child actor consistently worth notice (and he's pretty much outgrown the "child" label anyway), and that Rainn Wilson can be amazingly witty and hip when he's not playing oddball Dwight on The Office. Also that everything Michael Clarke Duncan has done since The Green Mile remains nowhere near as good. And that I fucking hate kid's movies, especially ones loaded to the brim with pseudophilosophical bullshit like this one.
Say what you will about Shrek the Third--and I know that I did--but at least it wasn't pretentious. Shrek the Third: C-; The Last Mimzy: D-
I do, however, know that Will has seen Shrek the Third and liked it, so hopefully he'll offer an interesting counterpoint.