As an escapee from Hollywood, I found the movie-biz in-jokes throughout Looney Tunes: Back in Action pretty hilarious. But as my husband’s glower cued me, I was actually the only one in the audience doing any laughing. In fact, the only reaction I could hear around me was the snoring from the woman down the row. Not a good sign.
Looney Tunes is an admirable attempt to marry animation with live action, and there are lots of moments where you think: Wow, that was clever! But the movie itself doesn’t work — the story is stupid, and the two romantic leads don’t lock lips even once.
If you’re an animation nut, however, you’ll love Looney Tunes. There’s some extraordinarily manic cartooning, including lots of old-fashioned, violent stuff that warped a couple generations of bubblegum-splurt-ing brats like me. There are also some absolutely magical new-style scenes, including a brilliant montage in which Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny morph in and out of famous paintings in the Louvre. It’s breathtaking and unforgettable.
On the live-actor side, Steve Martin is zany as a puerile tyrant; Brendan Fraser (The Mummy) is beefy and cuddly; Jenna Elfman (Town & Country) does a hysterical rendition of a brainless, ambitious movie executive; and Joan Cusack (The School of Rock) is priceless in her one scene as Mother, the leader of the top-secret Area 52. But Timothy Dalton — doing a send-up of his James Bond character — is wasted.
Fraser plays DJ Drake, a wannabe stuntman working as a security guard at Warner Bros. DJ is instructed to evict Daffy Duck from the premises, because Kate Houghton (Elfman), the studio’s vice president of comedy, considers Daffy passe. Except that DJ blows the job, leading Daffy to think he’s the security guard’s new sidekick. And off they both go to Las Vegas, to rescue DJ’s father, the dashing movie star and secret spy Damian Drake (Dalton), who’s being held prisoner by the nasty Chairman (Martin) of — but of course — the ACME Corporation.
Kate chases DJ and Daffy, and they end up in the desert, where they meet Mother (Cusack) and a bunch of monsters from lots of other movies; and then there are the jaunts to Paris, and to Africa; and the cameos by everybody who happened to be walking past the sound stage. And then everybody’s running everywhere, and … you get the idea.
When you realize that the budget for this movie could feed a couple-thousand people for a month (I’m still reverberating with the war-ravaged images in Beyond Borders), you have to wonder: How could so many movie execs — especially the film’s director, Joe Dante (Gremlins) — read the script for Looney Tunes and not see how awful it was?
Both my mom and my husband are old enough to have watched Looney Tunes cartoons the first time around; thus, I figured nostalgia would influence their opinion of the film. Wrong.
“What’d you think of it, honey? I asked my spouse. “Sorry, babe,” he said. “Fell asleep halfway through.” Ouch.
Mom? “There was a lot going on,” the Wise One said. “But none of it meant anything.”
Tha-a-a-a-t’s all, folks!
— reviewed by Marci Miller