Monday, November 12, 2007

Bee Movie Buzzes Along Lazily

By Cody Quinn

Jerry Seinfeld looking for a suitable place to put his stinger.
Photo courtesy of Yahoo! Movies

It’s not every day a movie about insects makes its way into theatres. It must have been at least a year since the last one came out. Bee Movie is Dreamworks addition to the digitally animated insect genre and, with the help of Jerry Seinfeld, it surpasses Antz, and almost reaches the heights of A Bug’s Life.

Bee Movie is the tale of Barry B. Benson (yes, there is no shortage of the letter “B” jokes), who is voiced by Seinfeld, and his interactions with the human world. Throughout the movie Benson takes on the uniform system of the hive, takes on the consumerism of man, and ultimately realizes that everything has a purpose in the world.

If the movie has a fault (which it does), it’s that it was written by Seinfeld and his cohorts from the old days. When I caught a midday show, I was surrounded by families with small children. I didn’t hear a lot of laughter for the subtly disguised irony and the slight pokes at convention Seinfeld made a career out of.

Not that there wasn’t any laughter at all; the movie is beautifully animated, and the sight gags are at least as well done as in the Shrek movies - just not as plentiful. The verbal humor is top notch, especially in a court scene featuring a well-casted John Goodman.

Casting on the whole is pretty spot on. Chris Rock gets a title credit for about ten lines worth of work as a mosquito. Ray Liotta has about as scene stealing a role as an animated character can get playing himself. Matthew Broderick settles for a typecast appearance as Benson’s nebbish friend Adam. And Renee Zellweger voices a disturbingly attractive CGI woman named Vanessa.

The relationship between Vanessa and Benson rides that fine line between sweet and whatever the insect equivalent of bestiality is. It’s hard to fathom what effect Seinfeld was going for, but it seems like he added the relationship only because some form of romance is standard fare for these types of movies.

Which brings me to the main reason this movie never seems to get off the ground: Seinfeld alternates between ditching convention and embracing it. The plot is paint by numbers for children’s animation: character feels different from others, character rebels, character realizes importance of friends, character defeats adversity, character lives happily ever after.

Then again, Seinfeld treats his characters like throwaway prop gags and meanders from point to point on a wing and a joke. Taken in bits, things seem funny enough, but when you try to follow the punch line from point A to “Bee” in the movie, you end up little more than mildly amused.

Bee Movie is certainly not just for kids. Seinfeld’s pedigree dictates that. However, the cutesy elements put it out of date movie range.

In all fairness, Seinfeld has been out of practice for a couple of years. Maybe Bee Movie is just him shaking off the rust. I kind of enjoyed this movie, but I’m anxiously looking forward to his next.

Concession Stand Equivalent: Large diet coke. Will quench your thirst but not as good as it should be.

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