I really love anthropomorphic food. This movie has walking, talking pizza slices, cheeseburgers, cookies and bags of popcorn. So if you’re wondering why I’m giving this a one-star review as opposed to the zero it otherwise deserves, that’s half your answer. Blame it on Savage Steve Holland.
The Emoji Movie is certainly not the worst film I’ve ever seen, but it’s on the short list for most shameless. If this film had any self-awareness at all outside of a few quick shots of kids walking into each other while being distracted by their phones, that could’ve been enough to bump it up at least a half-star. But the dissonance between establishing all these kids as being kind of dumb for obsessing over their smartphone apps and the film’s message that we literally can’t live and be happy without those same apps is maybe the most wrongheaded route the filmmakers could’ve taken. For as simple as it is, this is one confusing story.
Those kids, by the way, barely register as characters at all. I kept being surprised to see them whenever they’d pop back up because the bulk of the film is devoted to Gene (T.J. Miller, miscast as usual). Gene is a “meh” emoji. And why is he named Gene? It’s a name that’s potentially pretty loaded, but nothing in the film suggests that it means anything at all. In fact, only he and his parents (Mel and Mary Meh, voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) even have names. Every other character in the film is simply called by their emoji signifiers. Poop is called Poop (Sir Patrick Stewart, whose time and talent are utterly wasted here). Poop’s son is Poop Jr. The smile emoji is Smiler (perfectly, creepily voiced by Maya Rudolph).
Gene’s a little too emotive to fit in, so to avoid being deleted by Smiler, he attempts an escape to the Cloud. Helped along by Jailbreak (Anna Faris, a hacker emoji with a McGuffin backstory that only serves to further confuse the point of the film), he makes his way through a smartphone labyrinth, hopping from app to app in what passes for the plot but is simply some pretty crass vertically integrated product placement. Is there any other conceivable reason why a 13-year-old kid would have Crackle on his phone? Is he a big Joe Dirt 2 fan? We do get a few seconds of a cute cat video, though, so that’s your other half-star right there.
And don’t these emoji character designs look like M&Ms? We’re just making movies about literally whatever now, right? Why didn’t we get an M&M movie instead of this? Maybe John Goodman and J.K. Simmons have to fight each other. They’re the Yellows of their respective realities and they meet and have to fix the timeline so they can all go back home. Maybe they have to do battle in gigantic Mecha-M&M suits. Is Brad Bird available? There’s still time. I don’t know. Anything would’ve been better than The Emoji Movie. Rated PG for rude humor.
Now Playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Strand of Waynesville.