Yet another set of animated television characters gets tapped for theatrical service with The Powerpuff Girls Movie, a feature-length version of the popular Cartoon Network series. At first glance, the sardonic, whip-smart show, in which three bug-eyed, superheroic perma-tykes (brainy Blossom, cranky Buttercup, and sickly-sweet Bubbles) defend idyllic Townsville from various baddies, doesn't seem ripe for the long formthe TV episodes run less than 15 minutes apiece. As it turns out, though, the premise has creativity to burn.
The draggy opening segment recaps the PPGs' origins, as nerdy Professor Utonium concocts the trio in vivo andthanks to unruly lab chimpanzee Jojoaccidentally doses them with super-power-inducing Chemical X (the chimp gets a blast, too). A city-leveling game of tag enlivens this first half, but the film really takes off when Jojo resurfaces. Mutated into an effete blowhard with a giant protruding brain and go-go boots, the newly mojo Jojo dupes the girls into helping him create a race of similarly enhanced apes. The high point of the movie (if not of all the summer's movies) occurs when this army challenges its megalomaniacal creator's authority: Part extravagantly choreographed musical number and part homage to the Planet of the Apes films, the signifying monkeys assert their treachery in hilarious variations of the Mojo persona, including a singing Jimmy Durante-esque proboscis monkey with a banana-peel arsenal and a nasty baboon with a cache of hand-pitched butt-bombs.
The rapid-fire satirical sophistication (scatology notwithstanding) and lovingly rendered pulp surrealism of this sequence should delight adults, while kids will get a charge out of the heroines' grown-up-defying chutzpah. Unlike the processed cheese of recent Disney, The Powerpuff Girls earns the affections of its cross-generational acolytes with sly innovation and unironic charm. Can you say that about any other studio movie this season?
Very little can or should be said of John Schultz's Like Mike, a valueless kiddie paean to pro basketball underwritten by the NBA. Milking the tear ducts as shamelessly as it plugs L.A.'s sports-arena eyesore, the Staples Center, Like Mike features Lil Bow Wow as Calvin Cambridge, an orphan who inherits magical hoop skills when he dons a pair of Michael Jordan's cast-off sneakers. (They're scrawled with the initials MJ, but who's to say they weren't Mahalia Jackson's?) About the only thing keeping this slick bit of p.r. afloat is Crispin Glover's turn as a (gulp!) orphanage director. What next: Like Wilt, starring Eminem as a syphilitic waif with a WC-inscribed jockstrap?
Following the sports doc formula seemingly set in stone by Hoop Dreams , Chris Dalrymple's quietly engaging Choice of Weapons pivots on the aspirations of a group of Harlem teens who vie for a spot on the 2000 Olympics U.S. fencing team. They're under the tutelage of motor-mouthed coach Peter Westbrook, a former Newark bad boy and Olympic champ who swears by the sport's rehabilitative powers. Banal as his motivational rhetoric can be, it's reinforced by the uncanny focus, mature self-regard, and effortless athletic prowess of the students, three of whom ultimately make it to the Games. Unlike Mike, their (and Dalrymple's) modest dedication actually inspires.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.