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"The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle"

Directed by Des McAnuff.
Written by Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me").
Starring Robert De Niro, Jason Alexander and Rene Russo. 
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  7/4/00


(WARNING:  Although a kid movie review follows, the language is clearly not for children.  Please screen for the kiddies!)

Since I am still here in buffalo visiting with the family, I thought it would be a good time to see all of the kid flicks that I am interested in while I have kids to go see them with!  So, my stepmom Anne (happy birthday!), kid sister Cate and I went to a matinee of "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" (which will be referred to as "TARB" from here on out).

With kid flicks, though, come kid movie problems.  In particular:

1.  Kids.  I love kids, without a doubt.  But, when you have to sit next to them in the theater, things usually go dangerously wrong.  How many times has a kid broken out into maniacal crying during the most important scene in the movie?  How many times has a kid spilled food on or near my lap?  How many times has little Bobby asked his mother, "Mommy, what did he say?"  And remember, kids don't really understand the importance of whispering at the age of four, so they try and talk OVER the movie sound and annoy every adult around them in the process.  Argh.  I often find myself shaking my head when I go see these movies because I wonder if the parents even get a sense of what is happening in the movie, since they have so much to worry about sitting next to them!

2.  Parents.  Parents' biggest problems with these movies are usually their un-whispered responses to kids' questions.  That, or audible commands made to young ones:  "Sally, don't pour Coke on your brother!"  The other big problem with parents--I know as much because my dad, Ken "Big Daddy, Sr." Bell, invented it--is ridiculously loud snoring in the theater, because mom or dad doesn't really care about what is happening on screen so they are using this as their opportunity to get some rest.  Trust me, if you don't remember it, your mom or dad has done this at least once when they took you to the moviehouse.  You've just been lied to for the last 25 years.

3.  Kid movie trailers.  I was "treated" to no less than six movie previews today, including "Pokemon 2000," "Godzilla 2000," "Thomas and the Magic Railroad," and everyone's favorite, "The Rugrats Go to Paris."  I was hoping that someone at the production studio had messed up and accidentally put a preview for a big-budget action movie on the reel, so I could see some stuff blow up instead of watching those wily Rugrats figure out what the Eiffel Tower is.

4.  Value.  Most kid movies last in the area of 80 minutes, which makes me feel shortchanged after having to drop $5.25 or $8.50 on the flick in the first place.  If I am gonna go check one of these things out, at least make it worth my while!

Alright, no more chitchat.  "TARB" is an absolute piece of shit, but it is not the writers' a point.  Let me explain.  Most of you have seen the cartoon version of "TARB," and as you remember Rocky the Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose take on Natasha, Boris, and Fearless Leader every week in Fearless Leader's attempts to take over the world.  Most of the TV show is spent watching Bullwinkle make bad jokes, Rocky play the straight man and Boris & Natasha try to capture/maim/disgrace/kill the good guys.  And, as a kid, I loved watching the reruns of this on Nickelodeon or the Fox affiliate in Rochester growing up.  The original show aired in the mid-60s, and has never been revived in any form before this movie.  Where the writers did a good deed was in staying absolutely, positively true to the original's characters and storytelling devices...most notably, the interaction between Rocky & Bullwinkle (Bullwinkle's punchline, Rocky's sympathetic nature), plus the comraderie between Boris and Natasha (total ineptitude in catching the heroes).

This, unfortunately, is what makes this movie such a meteoric piece of fucking shit.  My humor is currently more "Seinfeld" and "Simpsons" than such obvious joke-telling as Bullwinkle's slow delivery of mishearing Rocky talk about, say, Washington and thinking that he was talking about washing.  "When are we doing the laundry, Rock?" says Bullwinkle.

"I said WashingTON, not washing, Bullwinkle!" replies Rocky.  Bah-hah.  Jokes like this litter the screenplay, and it makes for a painfully long 90 minutes of running time for someone who has honed his humor on the kind of wit and satire that modern audiences are looking for.  (That, or a good ol' sex comedy, which is obviously not happening here!)  This brand of humor is simply not meant for a Gen X or slightly-older adult, since you can see all of the jokes coming and when they do, they make for some uncomfortable silences in the theater.

The plot:  Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro), Boris (Jason Alexander), and Natasha (Rene Russo) somehow escape cartoon land and enter the real world, where they take over all of the country's cable networks and attempt to brainwash the nation's television watchers by showing the absolute worst TV shows they can think up.  Their plan is to brainwash the citizenry so badly that the populace will be tricked into voting for Fearless Leader for President of the US.  To combat them, an FBI agent (Randy Quaid) sends one of his field reports, agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to get the only two things that could possibly stop Fearless Leader:  Rocky and Bullwinkle.  The good guys have 40 hours to get from Hollywood to New York City and Fearless Leader's TV studio before he can deliver an address to the nation convincing US citizens to vote him in as the next President.

As I mentioned before about the characters and humor of the original show, the casting of the three villains is absolutely perfect.  De Niro, Russo and Alexander all play the roles of the three bad guys to a t, getting the voices, accents and costumes all just right.  But, if only they had something to do!  There are so many people in this movie that De Niro only has four or five scenes, and all of them suck.  Russo and Alexander have more to do, but it is so fucking stupid sometimes that you just wonder if they had script approval in their contracts before signing on.

Then, the cameos!  Wow!  Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters (in three separate scenes, no less!), Whoopi Goldberg, Kenan and Kel (Cate told me who they were; I admit it, I don't know who they are), John Goodman, Janeane Garofalo, and Billy Crystal all show up in this movie; besides Winters, all of their cameos suck to high heaven!  Crystal ("wasted" by the producers, in Anne's opinion) is so embarrassingly bad that you just wonder if he was on the set one day and the director said, "Hey Billy, do you want to be in the movie?"  And they just inserted a scene for him!  Awful!!

Perabo--who looks like she can't possibly be older than 18--is tolerable, but I had such a hard time buying that she was a gun-carrying officer of the federal government that it ruined any chance of me liking her character.  She just seemed miscast, like a person that won the role through some kind of contest on the Cartoon Network and got to star in the movie.  Her comic timing is poor (when working with the non-cartoon characters; it is hard to call it timing when you working with a partner that isn't standing next to you!) but she is kind of attractive and I'm sure will show up in other work very soon.

But, the overwhelming problem with the movie is the saddenly-laughless script.  I almost dozed off twice during the movie, and Anne actually did doze off for a 15-minute stretch in the middle (but, thankfully, there was no Laura ".com by Day, Club Kid by Night" Wilber-like snore job in the theater...THAT would have been embarrassing!).  Cate did like it, and I'm glad...but, I wondered how many kids had even heard of Rocky and Bullwinkle?  I don't know if many kids will see this movie, since the subject matter depends a bit on whether or not kids will find this cool.  The theater we went to was reasonably empty, and this was on a Sunday afternoon during a holiday weekend--this doesn't bode well for how much money the movie made over the weekend.  Please, please, sequels!

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09