Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for TheatresReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/13/07 01:34:43
Since there are only so many long-running hit TV shows that can be translated into feature films, it is perhaps not surprising that lesser-known cult favorites have begun to get the big-screen treatment as well. From a financial standpoint, I suppose these films make sense–even if they only make a token appearance in theaters, they are likely to do well on home video because of the pre-existing fan base. From an artistic standpoint, however, the results are more inconsistent. Films like “The Naked Gun” (based on the short-lived cop show parody “Police Squad!”), “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” and “The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy” worked on the big screen because the people behind those titles took the time and effort to create actual movies and not just extended TV episodes. On the other hand, films like “Reno 911: Miami” and “Jiminy Glick in La La Wood” chose to take the extended-episode route and demonstrated that what can come across as amusing at a punchy 22 minutes can feel endless at 88.For the first quarter-hour of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters,” the big-screen version of the Cartoon Network cult favorite “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” you might find yourself thinking that the film, against all odds, will somehow turn out to be the rare successful translation thanks to a snappy prologue that involves such demented elements as a time-traveling Abraham Lincoln, a Civil War video game and a hilariously profane take on those old “Let’s All Go To The Lobby” concession stand ads that used to run before the feature presentation back in the good old days. Once those fifteen minutes–which is, perhaps not coincidentally, the length of an average episode of the TV show–are up, however, it completely collapses into a stridently unfunny string of non-sequitur gags whose complete lack of comedic invention is outdone only by its smug belief in its own inherent hipness and even the most hard-core devotees are likely to grow weary with it after a while.
For those of you unfamiliar with “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” it is a decidedly surreal animated series centering on the adventures of a crime-fighting anthropomorphic Happy Meal–the super-intelligent Frylock (a floating box of fries), the selfish and egotistical Master Shake (no explanation needed) and the dimwitted Meatwad (again, no explanation needed. Actually, “adventures” is perhaps not quite the right word since they hardly ever actually do any crime-fighting that we are privy to seeing–most episodes usually involve the trio either bickering amongst themselves or harassing their oafish neighbors and if there is trouble afoot, such as the latest creation of the fearsome Dr. Weird or another invasion from the spectacularly annoying Moonites, they barely seem to notice until it is almost too late. Deliberately strange and surreal (some might describe creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro as Dadaist geniuses while others might describe them as unrepentant stoners who couldn’t tell a coherent story if their lives depended on it) the show is one of those things for which there is no middle ground–you either think it is hysterically funny or you think that it is the most annoying thing ever put on television.
Trying to describe what passes for a plot here is an exercise in futility–any attempt to summarize the goings-on will only make me sound like a pothead lunatic with a severe case of ADD, an attitude that would only serve me well if I was trying to join the show’s writing staff. There is some nonsense about an exercise machine that is the source of all evil in the universe, various theories surrounding the previously unexplained origins of the team and brief-but-pointless appearances from such beloved supporting characters as Dr. Weird (whose remote castle is being transformed into condos, ha-ha), the Moonites (whose boasts regarding their incredible powers are still under cut by their “Space Invaders”-style graphics) and the rapping beast known as MC Pee Pants. As a further indication of the lack of genuine inspiration on display, I need only to point out that the film drags in a bunch of high-profile (okay, medium-profile) celebrities to do vocal cameos–Chris Kattan is a diabolical watermelon with plans for world domination, Tina Fey is a 9-layer burrito, Bruce Campbell is a chicken that we discover was the long-lost fourth member of the team and Rush drummer Neal Peart and Cartoon Network cohort Space Ghost as themselves–and then gives them nothing funny to do on the assumption that we will be too tickled by their mere presence to notice.
In short doses, the show can be funny but 86 minutes of cheap-jack animation, “Hellzapoppin”-style gags and deliberately chaotic storytelling can grow wearying fairly quickly unless the end result is happens to be one of the funniest films ever made. Needless to say, “ATHFCMFFT” is not the funniest movie ever made or even the funniest movie opening this weekend. (“Perfect Stranger” has more genuinely laugh-out-loud moments and it wasn’t even trying to be a comedy.) You get the sense that Willis and Maiellaro shot their creative wads with the admittedly inspired opening quarter-hour and decided to string together a bunch of random show ideas that never quite got off the drawing board instead of trying to create a legitimate premise for an “ATHF” feature–by my count, the remaining 70 minutes contain exactly one laugh-out-loud moment and that joke only works if you are a fan of David Cronenberg. At this point, some may say that this is a film aimed squarely at fans of the series and that I simply don’t get it. To that, all I can say is that I am someone who has admired the show in the past and who actually owns a couple of the “ATHF” DVDs. In other words, I was familiar with the weirdo humor that the show traffics in and I still found it formless, inane and virtually impossible to sit through–I can only imagine what it might seem like to someone walking into it unawares.You may recall that earlier this year, “ATHF” found itself in the news when a guerilla marketing campaign to promote both the new season of the TV show and this film backfired in Boston when blinking electronic devices–essentially Lite-Brites featuring the Moonites giving people the finger–were mistaken for bombs and incited a security scare that nearly shut down the city for hours before authorities figured out what they really were. Having seen “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters” (even the title is kind of grating), I can guarantee that the news reports of that panic were funnier, stranger and far more entertaining than anything on display in the film proper. Then again, I suspect that being caught in one of the traffic snarls inspired by the panic would have been more entertaining as well.
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