06 April 2011

ABANDON ALL HOP, YE WHO ENTER HERE

I will assume that you have been unable to avoid the omnipresent advertisements for Hop, and that you have formed an opinion of it. I will further assume that you have anything like taste, and that your opinion is not positive. In fact, I suspect that you think Hop looks bad - absolutely dreadful, even. If that's the case, your expectations are too high.

Thing is, Hop is being advertised as a certain story, and mostly, it is that story: an animated bunny named E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand), heir to the throne of Easter, has fled his duties and ended up in Los Angeles, where he takes up with a late-20s slacker named Fred O'Hare (James Marsden), causing general annoyance and destruction in Fred's life as he pursues his dream of becoming a rock drummer. What you do not know from the ads, is that the movie opens with a montage of Easter Bunnies throughout history (each done not only in period style, but in reference to a very specific painting, the only grace note in the 95 godless minutes of the feature, and the single point where the filmmakers apparently expected the audience to have any knowledge of any subject, or to possess any higher brain functions at all), culminating with a picture of Fred, who voice-overs that this is the story of how he became the first human Easter Bunny. It would be wretched enough if this is how the movie ended; that it begins that way and then proceeds to drag us through a soul-breaking gamut of manic jokes and pop song sequences and generally unendurable treacle, having successfully eliminated even the most marginal degree of tension as to what's going to happen, that is a deliberate cruelty, nothing so much as the moving whipping out its cock and turkey-slapping the viewer before the sixty-second mark.

By this point, the animated critter in a live-action world schtick ought to be familiar from a great many movies that almost everyone old enough to drive to a movie theater hates with icy indifference: Marmaduke, Yogi Bear (both of which are yet worse than Hop), Alvin and the Chipmunks (marginally better). It's that last film, the one that got the hellish subgenre jump-stared back in 2007, that makes the best touchstone for Hop; they share a director, Tim Hill, who is also to blame for Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties. I have not, to my immense satisfaction, seen the last of these & can thus not make any blanket statements about Hill's status as an auteur, though Alvin and Hop at any rate share a discomfiting number of similarities: a plot centered on the Los Angeles music scene, phenomenally unnecessary pop music interludes, a pronounced narrative importance given to both poop and poop-eating jokes, though at least in the case of Hop this is given the feeble veneer of respectability by the conceit that E.B., being heir to Easter, can shit jellybeans. Which in turn gives the reviewer a handy metaphor to describe the experience of the film, a candy-colored turd if ever I've seen one.

Like far too many children's movies in the past handful of years, Hop feels not like a dull, passive babysitter movie, the kind that justifies itself solely be being harmless (for a fine example of the form, observe the current wide release feature Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules), but an act of aggression against childhood: bright and busy without actually being creative (for example, the huge Easter candy production floor, as animated by Despicable Me's Illumination Entertainment, is nothing so much as a hollow copy of Willy Wonka's factory), with "gags" that are just unpleasantly *wink-wink* *nudge-nudge* not in the way that makes adults look at each other with knowing grins, but in the way that makes an adult feel like less of a person for bearing witness to it. E.B. talking to Hugh Hefner's voice on an intercom at the Playboy Mansion is such a nominal joke; David Hasselhoff's cameo as himself in the guise of a talent agent is another. Or the obvious, but no less dispiriting because of it, placement of Easter Headquarters under the statues of, naturally Easter Island (their mouths drop down to form elevators)


Worst of all, though, is that for a movie which purports to be fluffy holiday fun for little ones, Hop is broken and cynical, and not just because its concept of being an Easter movie is so superficial: it would take virtually nothing but doing a search & replace for character names and species to make this a bog-standard Santa Claus movie, and there's an eye-brow raising moment when Papa Bunny (Hugh Laurie) makes note of Easter's 4000 years of tradition, a calculation that makes the baby Jesus cry. And indeed, every other iteration of Jesus as well.

No, that's not the worst of it. The worst is that a light-hearted children's romp is centered on such a sociopathic figure as E.B., an avatar of self-centered destruction and chaos whose antics are morally troubling rather than cute. The scene that sums up all the problems of the whole feature comes when Fred is attending his adopted sister's school pageant; if it weren't unfortunate enough that the filmmakers have to make a point of mocking a young girl for her singing voice, there's the following, hallucinatory sequence in which E.B. pretends to be a ventriloquist dummy, forcing Fred to lead the audience in a rendition of "I Want Candy" - because why the fuck not, that's why - embarrassing him and upstaging the children; somehow the film expects us to assume that almost all of the other parents would find this charming and enthusiastically join in, and then it has the stones to make Fred's dad (a visibly unhappy Gary Cole) express disbelief that his slacker son would humiliate grade-schoolers like that, and expect us to find him unreasonable just because throughout the whole movie he's been set up as a strawman asshole. This scene, with its unmotivated pop song, barbaric approach to human behavior, and toxic smiley-faced cynicism, would be the nadir of Hop, if only it were not so utterly typical of a film that is constantly indulging in manic comedy that's not remotely funny at the expense of anything touching or human. It's a film in which the best single element is Hank Azaria's role in the B-plot of an angry chick who wants to take over Easter, and then mostly because, for no apparent reason, Azaria plays the character as a militant Chicano; it makes no sense and it's really kind of offensive, but loopy enough that it's memorable. And that makes it stand out in a movie that is just one long ugly, unfunny, heartless grind.

I mean, Christ, "Fred O'Hare"?

3/10

8 comments:

The.Watcher said...

Aaa, I can't believe you went with "Abandon all hop" haha! Genius.

464fe22c-60c3-11e0-86c5-000bcdcb2996 said...

jesus tim, ya should have just watched source code.

adampb said...

Might not the 4000 years of Easter thing be a subtle jab at the way religious holidays change hands over the centuries, i.e. how Easter is sort of like the Christian Passover, just as Christmas comes from pagan holidays?

Or am I just thinking too much?

- Adam

Meg said...

Why is this movie a thing, and why are people like Hugh Laurie and Hank Azaria involved in it. :(

Tim said...

Adam- If that was the point, the screenwriters did a fucking awful job of expressing it. Then again, they did a fucking awful job of everything else.

Numeric chain- In fact I saw Source Code. Computer problems for the last two days have left me with a fairly hefty backlog.

Paul said...

Wow; if that was a 3/10 review, what do you write for 1/10s? :)

Tim said...

"Better than Yogi Bear" boxed me in a bit, but I shall excuse myself intellectually with the out that Hop, unlike the aforementioned bear picture, or indeed even Alvin and the Chipmunks, has appealingly designed animated characters.

javi75 said...

The only movie of this breed I've seen is the first Chipmunks movie, which I didn't even finish watching, and you say it's better than this! haha.
Oh well, it'll pass someday. Ain't it lovely Hollywood and its trends. Well in the 40's they used to make "Francis the mule" movies. It's the same thing I guess.