Such are the secrets movie stars harbor: In the world as it should be, you couldn’t get Robert De Niro to play an animated Jay Ward character-made-flesh for all the calzones in Tribeca, but here he is, Tatar-barking as the Dr. Evil-ish Fearless Leader in a witless big-screen live cartoon he coproduced. All those years of Scorsese movies and Methoding, and to where did the tenacious Inner Bobby long to return? Frostbite Falls.
Obviously cobbled together piecemeal in the dumb hope of producing yuks by happenstance—in some ways resembling the half-assed card-house USSR the movie helplessly references—The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle takes the fondly remembered, pen-sketched characters into “the real world,” which is of course Hollywood’s punishingly unfunny, in-joke-ridden notion of itself. (An Alan Smithee Movie is an evocative corollary.) The original cartoons came in crudely designed seven-minute splats for a reason; here, the computer-generated self-mockery suggests not self-knowledge but desperation, squeezed in between cheap stunts, utterly undecipherable transitions, and pointless cameos (Don Novello, for one shot, as twin fruit-cart vendors?). Outside of the dry, fast, deadpan context of Ward’s flat universe, the puns and tangents are dead in the water, no matter how often The Narrator points out that very fact.
The results are hatefully unentertaining, particularly when focused on R & B’s human escort through the morass of story, an FBI agent played by newly discovered lip-and-hair teen dervish Piper Perabo. Perabo, soon to be made the new Jennifer Beals in Jerry Bruckheimer’s forthcoming Flashdance redux, Coyote Ugly, has a face as fresh as unkneaded dough and a whining delivery that suggests the voice inside Britney Spears’s head when the service table forgets to stock the cherry Fruit Roll-Ups.
Taking the assignment to save the earth from Fearless Leader’s zombifying cable TV shows (bad Soviet sitcoms, the only good joke, squandered), Perabo’s Agent Sympathy claims to have grown up with R & B, but she’s too young even to have been fazed by reruns—it’s De Niro who was 16 when the show debuted in 1959. Though the credits list one writer (playwright and Analyze This scribe Kenneth Lonergan), you get visions of the story meetings: too long, too numerous, too crowded, too many pencils in the ceiling. (For the voice of Rocky, June Foray is just one of four actors credited.) As Boris and Natasha, Jason Alexander and Rene Russo seem mortally embarrassed, as well they might: So much more than Ward’s Ernie Kovacs-influenced ditties, the movie is hardly a project worthy of grown men and women. But the same could be said for loads of movies, even if few seem as ferociously pointless. The question might be, in the end: How does it honor the Americans happily imprinted with the original show’s beautiful chaos to have it turned into bastard nonsense? If no one cares to say, who cares about the movie?