Mark Reviews Movies

Cars 2


1  Stars (out of 4)

Director: John Lasseter

Cast: The voices of Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 6/24/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 23, 2011

Add another unfortunate misfire to the generally fine roster of Pixar feature films, and appropriate enough, it's a sequel to the animation studio's other lackluster effort. At least seeming to have arisen from an admirable acknowledgement that something was decidedly off about the original movie, Cars 2 overhauls just about everything from its predecessor, from the limited and limiting setting to the importance of characters to the story. Of course, it would be unwise to give credit to a mechanic for recognizing that one of the tires on one's car is flat after he or she decides to fix it by letting out the air of the other three.

Let us try to ignore to the best of our ability that a world full of anthropomorphic vehicles without any human beings to build them or give reason for their existence makes no sense on any level. Let's bypass the fact that the characters' design is aesthetically strange. Also, if a spray of water to a truck's undercarriage elicits the kind of response an unsuspecting human would have to a bidet, it's best not to imagine the sick torture perpetrated upon an airplane that is stuffed full of automobiles. There are plenty of more pertinent issues to address that don't rely on the overall feeling that there's just something plain odd about the movies' concept.

The first insight that screenwriter Ben Queen has abandoned almost all that came before arrives in the prologue, an action sequence set on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean and featuring a character that has nothing to do with the specific plot or general tone of the previous movie. He (It?) is Finn McMissile (voice of Michael Caine), a super spy from a British intelligence organization searching for a fellow agent who (that?) disappeared while investigating a criminal mastermind (engine?). McMissile overcomes the inherently restricted mobility of a car with a series of gadgets that allows him to climb walls, balance above the ground, speed across the water, and submerge under it (The breathing apparatus is one of the movie's few effective jokes). Some other upgrades include flying, machine guns, disguises, and the ability to jump without any technological assistance when necessary.

Mostly, though, the narrow imagination of the characters' occasional technical improvements only slightly enhances Queen's unyielding reliance on chases. Any and every conflict or plot development regresses into a high-speed pursuit, and that the movie's major subplot revolves around a sequence of races around the globe only enhances the impression that the script is stretching for ideas despite the almost complete restart.

Radiator Springs, the location of almost the entirety of the last movie, barely figures into this one. There, Tow Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), whose name wishes it were a pun, lives his life awaiting the return of best friend Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson), who returns to the town a racing champion.  Soon enough, Mater gets into trouble, starting a rivalry between Lightning and Francesco Bernoulli (voice of John Turturro) and sending Lightning and his crew, including new addition Mater, on a trip around the world to participate in a race sponsored by Sir Miles Axlerod (voice of Eddie Izzard), the inventor of a new clean-burning fuel. Someone, though, is attempting to sabotage the race by igniting the fuel during the race.

As dull a hero as Lightning was, his qualities are no comparison to the promotion of the third-rate comic relief to the role of the sequel's protagonist. Yes, Mater, who is neither amusing in his bumbling incompetence nor charming in his dimwitted nature, quickly takes the reins of the narrative when McMissile and his partner Holley Shiftwell (voice of Emily Mortimer) mistake the blundering tow truck for an American spy with photographic evidence that points to the identity of the mysterious criminal with a group of lemon henchmen. With Lightning's participation in the World Grand Prix in the background (complete with sports commentators spewing repetitive exposition), Mater travels from Tokyo to Italy to London (All impressively recreated), and director John Lasseter (with co-director Brad Lewis) and Queen intercut equally uninvolving, seemingly endless races and chases.

It's only fair, if we're ignoring the issues with the movie's very concept, to only briefly mention its problematic moralizing. Firstly, it espouses that friendship is vital when only the first and closing acts directly deal with the relationship between Mater and Lightning, and secondly, the assertion that one should be oneself, even when one is the fool, to the point of abandoning personal betterment is a bit distressing. Tedious, derivative, and with little inspiration, Cars 2 is not only the weakest Pixar effort, it is also the studio's first genuinely bad one.

Note: As inconsequential as I find the MPAA rating system, the assignment of a G rating to Cars 2 is notably irresponsible. Here is a movie that features fairly extensive gunplay and the sometimes violent deaths of its humanlike automobile cast. It's reasonable to assume that Pixar and Disney got a pass simply because, well, they're Pixar and Disney. Usually the outrage about a movie's rating goes the other direction, but here's hoping for an overarching call for reform to the entire arbitrary process.

Copyright 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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