Directed by Raja Gosnell
Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mayes, Hank Azaria, Johnathan Winters (v), Katy Perry (v), Anton Yelchin (v), Frank Welker (k), George Lopez (v), Alan Cumming (v), Sofia Vergara,
Written by J. David Stern, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn
Neil Patrick Harris is a very funny, multi-talented singer, stage performer and actor. Here he is Patrick, a typical, woe begotten New Yorker, given to strive after biting off more than he can chew, and then being given more to deal with when 5 Smurfs happen upon him. His is the type of character that one always sees in a film of this type, no more, no less. You might remember him as Jason Lee in The Chipmunks movies. Jayma Hayes plays his wife, Grace. She is more accessible than she is in the hit television show, Glee. Expecting a child, expecting her husband to care more about the pending family than his threatened job, she is taken by the cuteness of The Smurfs.
The Smurfs, through spells and hocus-pocus, end up in, where else, Central Park, NYC. They run around a bit, stand in front of paid advertisements, and spend their nights with the nice, cuddly couple. Following them all the while is Gargamel (played like Hank Azaria plays annoying characters: annoyingly) and his cat Azrael. They are here, mainly to absorb blows and miss them “…by that much.” He has some charming interactions with Patrick’s aggressive boss, Odile (Vergara, against type) which show how promising the movie could be…and then just forget it.
One quality of the film that makes it worth watching in the theater is that it was presented in 3D. Or so you’d think. There are plenty of worthwhile scenes early on that warrant this format, but overall, it is the first time I experienced a headache from it. The girls I went with, my two daughters, were blown away with it, and showed no ill effects. So impressed with this feature was my oldest girl, and 8-year-old, she announced on the way home that she wished that life was in 3D.
After informing her that life is indeed presented in 3 dimensions, she asked “So stuff can come flying at you and explode?”
The movie is full of laughs for the 10-and-under set. And there is one or two for adults, mainly when Gargamel spends time with Odile. The humor is perfectly paced, appropriately gentle, and only rarely does it reach double-entendre status. This is good and bad, of course. Good, because it does not leave your kids with any bad ideas. Bad because it does not leave your kids with any good ideas.
The Smurfs is probably about 15 minutes too long for any kid 5 and under. Each of the characters presented are not full individuals, but not nearly the morons (except Gargamel) that they are in the cartoon. The cat, Azrael, is strangely animated, but with my girls, received many of the biggest laughs as he took pratfalls and laughed at Garamel’s many more. No one is ever seriously hurt, or threatened in the film, but Gargamel is filled with an animus not entirely explainable to someone who recently started going through the night without pull up diapers.
The voice work is pretty decent, especially Alan Cumming, who is quite entertaining as the new Scottish Smurf, Gutsy. George Lopez is in just about every animated film these days, whether playing a tiny dog (Beverly Hills Chihuahua), a bird with a nagging wife (Rio) or here as Grouchy Smurf. The kids liked him best here, as my eldest kept asking me where she’d heard him before. Katy Perry is unique as Smurfette, if only because she is the only girl Smurf. My girls would have cooed no matter who tried on those doll clothes with long blonde hair. Yelchin’s soft approach as Clumsy Smurf, replacing the idiot Southerner approach, with an innocently well-intentioned hero. I was grateful for Johnathan Winters portrayal of Papa Smurf, if only this meant there was going to be one authority figure not voiced by Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart or Morgan Freeman. For an even better twist, Tom Kane plays Narrator Smurf, providing laughs a couple of times, and then exasperation eventually.
Is this a decent movie? Barely. The kids are engaged with the blueness, the cuteness, the incessant movement in 3D. If there is a crowd that enjoys the hugging and the (minimal) learning, its children. What this is, however, is an immense improvement over the putrid television show. I did not want to see any of that garbage, and I don’t think I did. If you want to have your kids see something that doesn’t involve fighting robot cars, have them see something with small blue dwarves avoiding the violence of an ineffective wizard and his strange-looking cat.
(*** out of *****)
Directed by D.J. Caruso
Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAullife, Kevin Durand
Written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Marti Noxon, based on I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Jobie Hughes and James Frey)
The name James Frey is a fount of controversy ever since his book, A Million Little Pieces, foolishly endorsed by Oprah in her silly book club, was revealed to be based on fraudulent claims. While he was navigating that mess, he kept his options open in another venture, pumping out kids novels hiring writers on the cheap. The venture, named Full Fathom Five, paid authors little up front with a 30% take on the profits, more if the book is a hit. I Am Number Four is the product of the first real success of Frey’s venture. According to an article in New York magazine, he provided the story to Jobie Hughes, a struggling writer born in Renton, Washington, but raised in Ohio, and sold the movie rights to Spielberg and Bay as Hughes wrote the book Under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, it was released by Harper Collins, spending 7 weeks atop the NY Times Bestseller List. In light of that kind of beginning, you’d have a right to be suspicious. Watching the movie version of the book, however, I find that you don’t have to be suspicious, or all that serious, about it.
One of the things that the movie has going for it is it’s Director, Dreamworks Studio designated director, D.J. Caruso. His Disturbia and Eagle Eye, while somewhat generic in material, were expertly drawn and both turned a tidy profit. This movie, with even more bland characters in general, is treated with more respect than it probably deserves. As a result, it comes off pretty well, for a piece obviously marketed for kid’s whose parents are concerned with what they are watching. You know, the type of parent that is not trying to be a “buddy,” and there by has no opinion on what their kids watch, or how much older a person the kid is dating at age 13.
This is one of those films where the PG-13 is actually a little on the high side for ratings. Kids from 10 to 12 should have no problems adjusting to the scariest scenes, if they’ve seen either of the Transformers films. The characters are not groundbreakingly original, but they aren’t entirely lame either. If you think this something less than a ringing endorsement, you are right. An example is the high school jock. Yep, he’s a jerk of the Cobra Kai edition, but is not impervious to external data. He isn’t stupidly obvious, either. The nerd, while not a genius, is not the kind to drop his folders all over the floor when he sees a cute girl, either.
Now, for Number Four…he’s an alien, but not just any alien. He is special. In the post Twilight world, this is where we are, folks. It’s nothing to be a vampire or an alien anymore. There needs to be a twist. This time, we get to see the reveal of his special abilities. Alex Pettyfer plays the special alien quite seriously, kind of like any of the characters from Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. The range is limited to opening his eyes widely when encountering something strange, but it expands towards the end of the film, much like any character who goes from being surprised the being the surprise. Diana Agron plays the love interest with the same limits, adding none of the feminine wile and guile which made her a favorite on the television show, Glee. Only Teresa Palmer, as a mysterious blonde searching for Number 4, and Kevin Durant the Commander of the bad guys (Magadorians), looks like they are having any fun out there.
Still, it is a crisply moving story, and does not ponder on its effects. There is a series to kick off, here, and kick it off, they do. The result is a movie that I probably won’t remember all that much, but it won’t shatter my kids to read or watch. When I was a kid, long ago, I remember watching a show called Danger Island, which was a cliff-hanger serial on The Banana Splits. Many fond memories sprang from that show, yet, many years later, I realize it really wasn’t very good at all. Still, it was harmless fun at the time. I Am Number Four is a little better than this, but not much.