Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: "The Angry Birds Movie"

Movies fail for all kinds of reasons. Poor casting, bad story structure, uninspired direction -- even the music can ruin a moment. I’ve seen it all, and generally don’t hold it against the filmmakers. They swung, they whiffed, maybe they’ll do better at their next at bat.

The one reason I can’t abide, though, is sheer brute laziness.

“The Angry Birds Movie” is a merchandising opportunity in search of a movie. It’s based on a video game, and the batting average for that conversion is still .000. And the Angry Birds games aren’t even really games, they’re apps -- ways to pass the time on your smartphone while you’re waiting for the dentist.

There are no characters, no story, no drama. You just plink bird ordnance at pig structures to smash them. Ostensibly it’s because the pigs stole the birds’ eggs and they’re angry about it… but you never even get to the eggs.

You might as well try to make a film out of tic-tac-toe.

Still, the total lack of a format means rookie directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly and screenwriter Jon Vitti had no structure to hold them back. They could make up any kind of scenario they wanted and inserted imaginative characters and situations into them. Totally free reign.

Instead, they slapped together a droning mélange of quips, crude body humor and zippy action. Entire scenes and exchanges of dialogue seem improvised on the spot, which is impressive (in a way) for an animated film with an estimated budget of $80 million.

Little kids may be carried along by the bright colors and goofy action. But this parent was bored nearly to the point of walking out.

Here the birds all live on one happy island, protected by legendary guardian Mighty Eagle, who’s more aspirational than operational these days. The one malcontent is Red (voice of Jason Sudeikis), a pugnacious bird with Groucho Marx eyebrows and a tendency to lose his cool. For his crimes he’s sentenced to anger management class, led by hippy-dippy chickie Matilda (Maya Rudolph).

His classmates are Chuck, a hyper-fast yellow bird voiced by the excitable Josh Gad, and Bomb (Danny McBride), a burly black fellow with a tendency to literally explode when stressed, though his body is only slightly singed in the process. (The movie’s metaphysics are suspect.)

Oh, and there’s a massive red bird named Terence the size of a blimp -- he mostly resembles Red on steroids, eyebrows and all – who only ever glares at people and grumbles. I’m astonished to learn he is voiced by Sean Penn, who has hereby accomplished the Method Acting pinnacle of getting paid to grunt.

Anyway, the green pigs roll up on the beach one day offering friendship, led by the officious Leonard (Bill Hader), and they quickly set about spoiling bird paradise with their machines and noise. It’s all an excuse to make off with the birds’ eggs for their feast … which they sure seem to take their time getting around to. (Three-minute boil, anyone?)

Eventually, an hour into the movie, the birds starting launching themselves into the pig town via a giant slingshot the pigs brought with them, also for reasons unknown.

Mighty Eagle makes an appearance, gallantly voiced by Peter Dinklage, having now gone to seed. His first undertaking, after Bomb and Chuck have bathed in the mystical lake on top of his mountain, provides the movie’s sole laugh-out-loud moment.

As I say, I don’t often get mad about bad movies. But when you can feel the people who made them not trying, consider my feathers ruffled.

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