NOSTALGIA LANE MOVIE REVIEW: “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” stars Brendan Fraser (The Mummy , Bedazzled), Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg [TV series], Friends with Benefits), Steve Martin (The Jerk, Shopgirl), Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, Toy Story 3), Heather Locklear (Melrose Place [TV series], T.J. Hooker [TV series]), and Joan Cusack (Working Girl, Say Anything…), with voice work from Joe Alaskey (Forrest Gump, Out of this World [TV series]), Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo [TV series], Enchanted), Billy West (Futurama [TV series], Doug [TV series]), Eric Goldberg (Superior Duck [Short], Pups of Liberty [Short]), June Foray (Mulan, The Smurfs [TV series]), and Bob Bergen (Up, Monsters Inc.). It was directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers) and written by Larry Doyle (Duplex, I Love You Beth Cooper). After DJ (Fraser) is fired from his security job on the Warner Bros. back lot, he goes on a search for his father, who appears to be in trouble. Along with him is Daffy Duck (Alanskey), who is also fired from Warner Bros. for his rebellious ideas against Bugs Bunny (Alanskey). Realizing that she has done wrong by firing him, Warner Bros. worker Kate (Elfman) goes after the duck in order to save her career.
Yes, thank goodness I have arrived to this: “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.” When I created this second marathon outing, it took a while to plan out what films to schedule in. However, this one was a sure-fire shot. I loved this movie growing up; it was essentially my “Who Frames Roger Rabbit?” My brother and I have seen it numerous times as kids, primarily because it fascinated us to see animated characters interact with real people (on top of that, they were Looney Tunes, so who could pass that up?). It’s funny how simple-minded we were then. We thought that “Back in Action” was a fantastic feature filled with comedy, thrills, and a solid story that would hold strong for many years to come. Such great ideas to have when we were little, but unfortunately age has unmasked the true identity of this picture, exposing it of its mediocrity and often cringiness. Yes folks, “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” is not a good film…it’s actually pretty bad, and that’s difficult to say. Geez, how could I have been so blind!? With its messy plot line, hollow characters, and disgusting integration of animation with real life, it’s challenging to not lose brain cells while watching “Back in Action” unfold. Such a sad thing to admit, and I feel as though I should do it a service and give it free points for making me happy as a child, but I have to remain strong; nostalgia points will be given, though nothing too big in scale. How did this product come to be? What went wrong during production of this sleazy film? I mean, if you ever watch it, “Back in Action” presents a tug-and-pull vibe of different ideas. It’s such a hodgepodge of story arcs, characters, and Hollywood industry references that it would be criminal to not have a backstory. Luckily for us, there is one. Like many movies brought under the influence of big industries, “Back in Action” faced difficulty before conception. Let’s reach back as far as “Space Jam,” a flick that I didn’t love as much as this one (no matter the popular opinion). Warner Bros. wanted a follow-up entitled “Space Jam 2,” but Michael Jordan said no dice. A few successor ideas were tossed around, many of which went by the Jam brand, featuring Spy Jam with Jackie Chan and Race Jam with Jeff Gordon. However, they settled on “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” grabbing Joe Dante to helm the director’s chair. Dante was interested in making a quality Looney Tunes feature to honor one of his heroes, animator Chuck Jones. Jones revolutionized Looney Tunes back in its heyday, and Dante was planning on producing a documentary on the big figure before he was snagged for this narrative-driven picture. Though Dante had bright ideas, they were dulled by the murky water of Warner Bros. itself. They wanted the characters to reflect the “Space Jam” brand, with Bugs and Daffy mimicking the tends of “today” and relating to the hip kids. However, Dante fought tooth and nail to preserve their original image as Jones would’ve wanted. Dante got what he wanted from the animated characters, but his story fell to pieces as a whole. Everything was set up as gag-to-gag, and it shows. There wasn’t a single, strong narrative strand to follow in this mess. You have Brendan Fraser wanting to prove himself as “somebody,” Daffy Duck wanting to do the same, a business woman trying to bring Daffy back to Warner Bros. after firing him, and an evil ACME guy wanting to turn everyone into monkeys. Excuse me? That seems like a bit too much meat in my soup, lady. On top of that, none of them were given much development. The story went with the wind, blowing many different directions to the point that you had to turn your mind off to enjoy. It was structured alongside its gags and locations, spanning from Hollywood to Africa with our characters teleporting to each one (there was never any question of how they could afford to travel to all the places they went). I would say it was an agonizing adventure, but it was certainly cringy in many scenes. The dialogue was stale and terrible amongst the live-action cast. Everyone was a caricature besides the cartoons, who have a reason to be. None of the actors could do anything to keep the story afloat because of how bad the dialogue was; even Steve Martin, who portrayed one of the worst roles as the villain (why was he so over-exaggerated? Was that the joke?). Plus, there was no chemistry between Fraser and Jenna Elfman. Heck, any romance that came up between them fizzled out fast, even though they set themselves up to be together. The blame of that not only goes to what I mentioned before, but also because of the many deleted scenes that gave romance to the characters. Yes, I saw the bonus features, and while there was a lot left on the cutting board (including an alternate opening AND ending), I must say that I’m glad they cut out the romance sequences; they were downright atrocious. Watching them and the rest of the deleted scenes made me realize how messy the production of this film actually was. Dante went on to even state that it was the longest year and a half of his life (I feel sorry for the guy). What can you possibly do with a doomed story? Nothing, that’s what. All they had left to do was to write funny jokes, which thankfully there were quite a bit of. That’s not to say that this is a hilarious movie. Much of what I laughed at came out of badly made sequences, however there were moments I genuinely thought were funny. Most of these lied in the scenes shared with animated characters. Bugs and Daffy were preserved beautifully, and their banter/comments were funny. I loved seeing them onscreen. If you ever watch this, you’ll notice that the humor derives from many places, though the biggest portion comes from reference to the film/animation business. There are many Easter eggs and jabs at Hollywood that it’s criminal; I loved that aspect of it, as it was if the writer and animators were spitting on the faces of the industry executives while the ship sunk. Sure, these jokes often contributed to the discombobulated plot, but at least it gave a good laugh every now and then. That’s really all I have to gain from this experience. Besides it’s humor and interesting concept of immersing our characters in the real world, on the back lots of Warner Bros., there isn’t much that “Back in Action” has to offer. It was a wasted opportunity to pull together our favorite animated characters for an actual fun trip. I don’t blame the filmmakers, who did their best, but rather Warner Bros., who failed to see this film as an opportunity to pay homage to the greats. While it has a place in my heart as a childhood favorite, “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” is a wasteland of gags, locations, and conflicting story arcs that try to band together to fight the worst. Kids will find fun in it as I did and adults will scrounge up some good jokes, but other than that there isn’t much the film has to offer. FINAL SCORE: 54%= Burnt Popcorn
Here is the trailer: