(On Cable TV, April 2012) As someone who grew up on Les Schtroumpfs in their original French, both on TV and in comics, I suppose that I can’t be surprised if I’m not entirely enthusiastic about Hollywood’s The Smurfs live-action adaptation. There’s something… wrong… about the way the Smurfs are rendered on-screen, the clean glossiness of the comics incarnation made a bit too real by 3D textures. Thus unfairly prejudiced against the film, it’s no stretch to find the script rote, dull and juvenile even by kids’ movies standards. While the occasional self-aware line is good enough to earn a smile, it’s not enough to excuse the tired slapstick, the badly-animated CGI cat or the Scottish Smurf making a constant stream of testicle jokes. By the time the film features Smurfs rocking “Walk this Way” on Guitar Hero, I’m left shaking my head and muttering “Smurfs are not supposed to even try to be cool.” Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays are cute as the New York couple hosting the little blue characters, and some of the thematic ties to the prospect of imminent parenthood strike an unexpected chord. It’s not quite enough to offset the continuing annoyance at the antics on-screen, or the uncanny valley uneasiness of the Smurfs themselves… but it’s just enough to avoid throwing this film in the bin of irremediable failures. At the very least, The Smurfs will keep the kids entertained, and some of the throwaway lines will entertain the adults. Despite everything, it could have been worse.
(In theaters, December 2011) I’m not sure there’s a more conceptually offensive film out there in theaters at this end of 2011: Whether you’re talking about characters who enjoy the stoner lifestyle, a toddler doing cocaine, graphically-portrayed phalluses, Santa Claus getting shot in the face, nude nuns, angels performing sexual favours on a cracked version of Neil Patrick Harris or a murderous waffle-making robot, a straight-up description of the film’s content reads like a decadent horror show at the end of civilization. And yet, the series’ considerable irreverent charm is intact, and a solid core of moral value underlies the entire film: the story daringly picks up six years later with a grown-up Harold and a arrested-development Kumar, then throws them together in order to come up with a relatively mainstream-friendly conclusion. In-between, though, there’s plenty of refreshing hijinks, quasi-experimental segments (just wait for the Claymation stuff, or the 3D-tableau “plan”) and meta-fictional laughs about the actor’s other careers/roles, 3D gags (I almost regret not seeing this one in 3D) and more irreverence than you’d think possible. It’s still a silly comedy for people who like silly comedies, but it’s hilarious, fast-paced, sweet without being cloying and a perfectly self-aware third installment in a series –for one thing, it doesn’t seem as if it’s simply coasting on recycling its previous gags. Both Kal Penn and John Cho are great in the title role, with Neil Patrick Harris once again stealing the show and Danny Trejo joining the cast as a pitch-perfect father-in-law. If you’re a fan of the series, don’t miss it.