Monday, November 05, 2007

REVIEW: Bee Movie

As it turns out, not even Jerry Seinfeld is immune to the "Seinfeld Curse," i.e. the innevitability of an embarassing but non-fatal career stumble following the end of his titular sitcom. It's just that the other three regulars had their moments right afterwards, while Jerry himself has waited until right now - "Bee Movie" is a dud. Generic-looking, middling and only occasionally funny on purpose, it's the sort of bland animated fare that would barely be passable debuting as a Sunday Afternoon time-waster on Cartoon Network; so exactly WHAT it think it's doing as the capper to a year's worth of elaborate, stunt-driven marketing hype is anybody's guess.

The overriding flaw, oddly, is something that more-than-often winds up as a benefit for films like these and STILL gives this one it's only notes of real interest: A total lack of direction or consistent tone. It's all over the map, an episodic collection of ideas that all seem to come from entirely different variations on the main story: It strains for the absurd anarchy of the Looney Toons or the pop-culture referentiality of "Shrek" in some spots, while in others it reaches for the schmaltzy melodrama of old-school Disney or the philosophical maturity of Pixar - it never finds a singular unifying beat to groove to on it's own. As such, only the overly-complicated storyline keeps it from drifting off into heights of unhinged insanity like those of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force"... except not funny.

The story, by the way, concerns Seinfeld as Barry B. Benson; a Central Park honey bee who's feeling apprehensive about starting his culturally-mandated lifetime employment as a honey-maker. He's sure there are bigger things waiting for him outside the hive, so he hitches a ride-along with the Pollen Jocks (here seen as the bee equivalent of macho Air Force studs) and winds up lost in New York City. It's there he's rescued by - and instantly smitten-with - a lovely young florist named Vanessa Bloome, (Renee Zellweger,) who so entrances Barry that he practically falls all over himself in a rush to break Bee Law #1: Don't let humans know bees can talk. Zellweger, it must be said, rescues what there is to rescue in the film by virtue of being the only well-realized, enjoyable character: The animation and vocal-performance (at the proper tone, Zellweger's voice is one of the sexiest in the business) work in subtle ways to let us know that, while a sweet and intelligent creature in her own right, Vanessa is just this side of crazy. Crazy enough, at least, that she segues rapidly from accepting that a bee can talk to entering into a (chaste, one assumes) romantic relationship with said bee.

It's through hanging around with Vanessa that Barry learns what (to him) is a Shocking Truth of "Soylent Green" proportions: That humans harvest bee honey by force and profit from it (A brand of "Select Label" honey's celebrity endorser provides the film's single funniest joke.) After a visit to a honey farm which looks uncomfortably (and not in the way they probably intended) like a concentration camp, Barry decides to sue humankind for equal rights on behalf of the bee community. Yes, really. And for a moment there, it looks as though the film is going to take off to the wacky heights of "Aqua Teen" or even vintage "Bullwinkle"... except that it doesn't get any funnier. In the midst of all this, it still finds time to beat every bee pun in the book into the ground, trot out a smattering of unfunny celebrity cameos and completely waste the great Patrick Warburton.

It's just not very good, is the problem.

FINAL RATING: 3/10