Thursday, November 20, 2003
Warner Bros.'' Looney Tunes franchise has been going for 73 years, and from the bug-eyed, black-and-white Bosco to Bugs and Daffy, it''s been a helluva run. I''m unapologetically crazy about the Warner cartoons, filled, as many of their classics are, with the sort of gleeful anarchy and anti-authoritarian stance that makes both young kids and savvy adults hungry for more.
In a word, they''re pretty punk rock: The characters are forever spitting in the eye of the Man and winning battles through sheer, goofy cunning. After all, what are Bugs Bunny''s eternal struggles against Elmer Fudd but a thinly veiled metaphor for Life in Our Times? Granted, the Bugs and Co. have had it rough lately--1996''s Michael Jordan vehicle Space Jam was a weak attempt at updating the cartoons for a more modern audience, and it lost much of the characters'' anarchic charm in favor of Jordan''s wooden personage and liquid ball-handling.
Back in Action succeeds where that film failed due, in no small part, to the capably wacky direction of Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers), a genuine fan of cartoons with the wherewithal to finally make one of his own. Dante''s credentials on this front are superb: His segment of 1983''s Twilight Zone: The Movie updated the old "It''s a Good Life" episode with a surrealistic cartoon fervor that left the other segments (George Miller''s notwithstanding) feeling either flat or treacly. Back in Action seamlessly melds the cartoon world with the real.
Daffy is inadvertently fired from Warner by their comedy VP (Jenna Elfman), who then enlists the aid of Bugs Bunny and assorted other ''toons to track him down before she loses her job for good. Daffy, as it turns out, has gone to Las Vegas with a Warner Bros. security guard (Brendan Fraser), who hopes to rescue his superspy dad (Timothy Dalton) from the clutches of Acme''s evil CEO (Steve Martin), who wants a mysterious blue diamond, because...OK, it''s all total nonsense, I admit, and trying to explain what''s going on at any given minute in this film without a doctorate in ''toon logic is well-nigh impossible.
Suffice to say that Fraser, Martin, and the rest of the flesh-and-blood characters look like they''re having a ball, which translates instantly to the audience as well. Fans of Joe Dante and old sci-fi films will also go gaga for the wealth of in-jokes and tiny asides that run throughout the film. Dante, of course, is one of Roger Corman''s cinematic progeny, and Corman himself makes an appearance. So do Corman regulars Dick Miller, Mary Woronov, and Kevin McCarthy--in black-and-white, no less. There are also brief appearances from Forbidden Planet''s Robby the Robot, The Man From Planet X, This Island Earth''s Metaluna Mutant, and more, which makes this a veritable feast for genre fans.
In the end, though, it''s Bugs and Daffy that carry this riotous, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink film. Chaos, obviously, is timeless.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action [3 1/2 stars]
Directed by Joe Dante
Starring Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Timothy Dalton, Heather Locklear, Joan Cusack
(Rated PG, 90 min.)