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Friday, Dec. 14, 2007

'The Simpsons Movie'

Homer kills town, struggles for gags


Over the past two decades, I've maintained a simple standard for judging the comedies I review: did it make me laugh as much as an episode of "The Simpsons?"

The Simpsons Movie Rating: (3 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
SIMPSONS
"The Simpsons Movie": Not as funny as it should be. © THE SIMPSONS TM & © TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Director: David Silverman
Running time: 87 minutes
Language: English
Opens Dec. 15, 2007
[See Japan Times movie listing]

More often than not, the answer is "no."

Thus, it was with the same standard that I went into "The Simpsons Movie," the first feature-length spinoff from the long-running animated TV series. Did it make me laugh as much as an average "Simpsons" episode? Yes. But considering the average episode elicits that much laughter in about 23 minutes, and given that this movie clocks in at over three times that length, well, let's call it a bit disappointing.

This critic learned from an early age the danger of having high expectations; that lesson came from my first holy communion, when I swallowed the host and waited . . . and waited. Nothing happened, no flash of understanding, no divine spark, not even a warm fuzzy feeling. And, dare I say, the thought crossed my mind: "That's all?"

The same thought crossed my mind watching "The Simpsons Movie." After 18 years of being able to — as Fat Tony once put it to Krusty — "so consistently crack us up," when "The Simpsons" crew finally decided to do a feature, you'd think they had the material and a reason to do it. Surely this wouldn't be just another cog in the total-market-saturation machine — that's something "The Simpsons" would make fun of, not something they'd be guilty of, right?

Wrong. "The Simpsons" movie is funny in spurts, occasionally flashing the brilliant wit that the series is loved for (there's the poster ad quote), but it's rarely inspired or fresh, with many of its bits feeling like they've been recycled from earlier episodes.

The story here involves all-American doofus Homer Simpson, who — through sloth and stupidity — causes total environmental disaster to befall Springfield. Careful viewers will note that this plotline is lifted almost entirely from "Trash of the Titans," in which Homer turned Springfield into an illegal waste dump. (Not to mention "Homer to the Max," where he singlehandedly takes out an entire redwood forest.)

This time his mishap threatens the entire town. It's declared an environmental disaster site and the federal government — led by zealot-bureaucrat Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks) — seals off the town in a dome. This is not dissimilar to the episode in which evil nuclear energy magnate Montgomery Burns built a giant shield over the town to shut out the sun.

Enraged over their fate, an angry mob shows up at the Simpsons' home to lynch Homer. (Again, see episodes such as "The Tell-Tale Head" or "Homer Bad Man".) Homer flees with his family to Alaska, but his wife Marge, fed up with his behavior, leaves with the kids. Homer is distraught, but a psychedelic experience with an Inuit shaman convinces him to find his family and save his town. (This bit is shamelessly lifted from one of the all-time Simpsons classics, where Homer ingests a "Guatemalan insanity pepper" and goes on a Carlos Castaneda-like journey through inner space.)

Subplots involve Homer's obsession with his new pet pig (recalling his previous obsessions with the monkey Mr. Mojo, and the lobster Mr. Pinchy), while Homer's son Bart loses faith in his dad, and turns to cheery neighbor Ned Flanders as a substitute. Grampa Simpson throws a fit in church, babbling dire prophecies that leave everyone worried, and Lisa falls for a cute, environmentally-conscious Irish boy.

Unlike "South Park," or even "Beavis and Butthead," which really tried to outdo themselves with their feature-length movies, "The Simpsons Movie" seems to be playing it safe and by-the-numbers, with a distressing reliance on celebrity cameos, although the show has been guilty of this for a while too. The only thing that makes you remember this is, in fact, a movie and not just a long TV episode is Bart's nude skateboarding stunt, which ends up revealing his pecker. The soundtrack is a brilliant parody of Hollywood Hans Zimmer cliches . . . until you realize this is a Hans Zimmer score: doh!

I complain, but it's safe to say that diehard fans will find parts of this movie just fab-doodly-didulous. There are some sharp lines — Homer: "Isn't it great to be married to someone recklessly impulsive?" — and lots of jokes lurking in the corners, like The Cat Lady cleaning her yowling cats on a washboard. And, as any Simpsons fan will know, if the Cat Lady's in there, it can't be half bad.



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