by David Cornelius
“Zoom” wants so desperately to duplicate the magic of last year’s “Sky High” that it, too, begins and ends with the imagery of a comic book. But “Zoom” is no “Sky High” - not by a long shot. It is, instead, a vapid, tiresome, loud, obnoxious, shallow affair that prefers pratfalls and product placement to any actual storytelling.More than just a rip-off of “Sky High,” “Zoom” is also an amalgam of “Galaxy Quest,” “Spy Kids,” “Men in Black,” “Thunderbirds,” and, I dunno, “Fletch Lives,” but without the wit, intelligence, creativity, or, at least, entertainment value any of those other films may offer. Director Peter Hewitt (“Garfield”) seems to be operating on the plan that if he lets everybody just do what they want, surely something’ll work, even if nothing fits. This is why we get Tim Allen being cynical and smart-alecky, Rip Torn being stern and officious, Courtney Cox being slapsticky, and Chevy Chase being the least funny guy in the room despite his once again thinking he’s the funniest. Everybody’s doing their own schtick, none of them deciding to meld with anyone else’s plan for the film.
(Speaking of Chase: how appropriate is Tim Allen’s reaction to Chase’s balding, pudgy appearance, which is, simply, “wow, you got old!”? He speaks for us all, apparently.)
The film is an (almost in-name-only) adaptation of Jason Lethcoe’s book “Zoom’s Academy,” with a screenplay by Adam Rifkin and David Berenbaum. With almost everything from the book revamped, removed, or rearranged to fit a more generic Hollywood template, the movie winds up a downright mess. (The book has so much in common with “Sky High” that changes may have been quite necessary. But still, this is the best they could do?)
In fact, the exposition is far more interesting than anything that ends up on screen. We learn than long ago, the government’s “Zenith Program” gathered up a group of superhero teenagers to help save the world. Ah, but those government types felt they needed to push things forward and shoved a whole heap of radiation into the kids, turning one of them, the brother of super-speedster Zoom, evil in the process.
Years later, the brother, aka Concussion, has disappeared and Zoom (Allen) is living a quiet life away from the superhero biz. When it seems that Concussion is returning from some other dimension, it’s decided to find a new group of superkids, wheel out Zoom to train them, and, yes, save the world.
You know what? All of this sounds pretty darn cool. A little old school comic book action, a little government conspiracy, a little trouble in the family - there’s an awful lot that could have gone so very right with this story. You know what else? Not a single thing does.
From frame one, the movie seems tired with itself, content with just letting Chevy Chase make some knucklehead one-liners or Courtney Cox trip over something and calling it a day. It cribs so much from so many better movies yet learns nothing from any of them - not how to develop interesting characters, how to frame a proper joke, how to thrill with nifty action. It goes through the motions of being a family film but then confuses “family film” with “we need to throw in a lot of stupid humor because kids like to see giant butts, right?” (No kidding: one kid hero, played by Spencer Breslin, has the power to enlarge any body part, and yes, it is almost always his gut or his tush.)
The script attempts to create conflict by putting a reluctant Zoom up against a handful of kids, and in doing so it follows the exact path you’d expect. Zoom learns the kids need him, the kids learn how to work as a team, they get their act together just in time for the big showdown against Concussion, the end. (And what a showdown it is. I haven’t seen this disappointing, empty, and ultimately unimportant a finale since “Fantastic Four.” The whole threat seems tacked on at the last minute, really, and holds little weight with the rest of the story. For a climax that’s supposed to be so very important, especially to the title character, there’s so very little there.)
Oh, and there are lots of Smash Mouth songs here. Because obviously Peter Hewitt hates us all. (The less said about that band’s abominable cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure,” the better. And set to a training montage, no less!)
“Zoom” is about as brainless as kid flicks get, which is exactly why it fails. It refuses to try anything new, it fails to treat its characters as anything other than one-dimensional types, it views its younger viewers as an audience content with the bare minimum. It also looks to rush though its middling jokes and mediocre action bits with the least possible effort. There’s no heart to “Zoom,” no sense of fun or wonder. (Nobody even bothered to settle on a superpower for the character played by Michael Cassidy - he’s invisible, he’s kinda psychic, he’s both, aw, who cares?)
What we do get, however, is one of the most disconcerting scenes to ever come out of a studio film. You see, Zoom, the kids, and (sigh) their robot sidekick have taken a flying saucer out for a joyride, when they stumble upon a Wendy’s. Deciding they’d like to stop for lunch, the flying saucer attempts to go through the drive-thru. Thus begins a five-minute commercial for Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, with the kids ratting off all the menu items, don’t forget the Frosties! It’s an ugly, whorish scene that moves the film down a few more pegs, from bumbling mess to inexcusable disaster.There’s not a single thing to like in this dump of a movie. But I’m sure your children will enjoy the Kids Meal.
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originally posted: 08/14/06 19:46:40