Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joe Dante

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Timothy Dalton, Heather Locklear, Joan Cusack, the voices of Joe Alaskey, Billy West, Eric Goldberg

MPAA Rating:  (for some mild language and innuendo)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 11/14/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Looney Tunes: Back in Action starts off funny. It has the Looney Tunes characters acting loony—bouncing around and cracking wise and bouncing around some more. Then it starts poking fun at itself, Hollywood, and critics of old cartoons, and it seems to be heading down an intelligent road as well. Then the movie literally heads out on the road in a sputtering wreck of a car, and, well, the metaphor's pretty much spelled out right there for you. The screenplay by Larry Doyle moves from crazy satire to generic and formulaic adventure movie with occasional quips about genre clichés and formula along the way. Whether this move is supposed to be a continuation of the satire or taken on its own merits as an adventure, it comes across intrinsically lazy on both parts. The satire becomes unfocused without a driving force behind it, and the adventure is the stuff of which so many movies have touched upon before. The shame of it all is that there is a promising and legitimately clever premise within the first act, but it's never capitalized on.

The movie starts off with the classic rabbit/duck season bit as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck prepare to make another movie, but Daffy isn't too happy with the way the script has Elmer Fudd repeatedly shooting him. He's so fed up with being the punch line, the butt of the joke, the reliable bit player (welcome to the club) that he has a temper tantrum in front of the head honchos at Warner Bros., including the Warner Brothers themselves, and is subsequently escorted out of the room by Vice President of Comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Outside on the studio lot as she's about to hand the duck over to security guard D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser), the feisty fowl flees and causes chaos across the studio. In his attempts to catch the belligerent bird, Drake causes equal destruction, resulting in the collapsing of the famous Warner Bros. water tower. Now both guard and gander (technically not a gander, but it starts with a G) are canned and without work, but there's plenty to do when Drake discovers that his famous father, actor Damien Drake (Timothy Dalton), is actually a spy and has been captured by the evil chairman of the Acme Corporation (Steve Martin).

Ignore the part about the rescue mission and just consider the original setup for a moment. Think of the implication of the opening scene, in which Elmer Fudd repeatedly blasts Daffy in the face. There have been prominent criticisms aimed at the old Looney Tunes cartoons for a number of reasons. The violence within them is a key one, and by starting here with a scene that has no point other than cartoon violence, it's a statement of defiance on the part of Doyle and director Joe Dante—a reaffirmation of the series' classic comic values.  What pushes this ahead one step further is a scene later in the opening act in which Porky Pig sits in the cafeteria and woes about the paradox of having to cut down on his stuttering for the sake of political correctness and subsequently losing his funniness. "You're telling me," replies Speedy Gonzalez. A little time is spent at the studio while D.J. and Daffy head on their mission as the Warner Brothers realize how futile it is to try to pull off the rabbit/duck season gag without a duck. What if the movie had forgone the adventure angle and simply stuck around where it started? Think of the potential of cartoon makers trying to make old-fashioned cartoons in a world of modern sensibilities.

Instead, Kate and Bugs head out to find D.J. and Daffy and give them their respective jobs back, and the humor takes a turn for the conventional. Most of it relies on the audience's fondness with the Looney Tunes cast as cameo upon cameo is made. Most of them, of course, are henchmen for the Acme CEO, including the hopelessly stupid Tasmanian Devil, the incredibly accident-prone Wile E. Coyote, and the high-faluting Yosemite Sam, who now owns a casino in Vegas and gives us the best bit after leaving the studio. As Sam and his goons chase after the heroes down the idealistically drivable streets of Vegas, one of them lights a stick of dynamite and has no idea what to do with it after the heroes escape. If he throws it out the window of the car, innocent people will be hurt, and what kind of example would that be for the children? The rest of the jokes revolve around familiar self-referential material, such as the placing of cartoon physics in the real world and a bit in which the characters acknowledge shameless product placement to the point that it becomes shameless product placement. There is a creative chase through the Louvre Museum that has the characters jumping into paintings and adapting to their style, but it comes late.

The humans work fine with their invisible cartoon costars, and I like how Brendan Fraser willingly mocks his screen persona. The main problem, though, is that they all seem hampered by indecision. Are they human cartoons or just human? As a result, Steve Martin sticks out like a sore thumb with his embarrassingly goofy and purely cartoon performance. The people are unimportant anyway, and it's too bad Looney Tunes: Back in Action doesn't help bring its real stars back into today's world.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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