Friday, June 02, 2006

Over the Hedge - Reviewed by the Five Paragraph Bitter Film Critic

The Five Paragraph Bitter Film Critic will start with a confession - I have a soft spot for adult movies disguised as kid's movies. Now, I'm not saying I love adult jokes thrown into an otherwise pure family fare, like the playful flirting between the winking parents on "Dennis the Menace" or one of Charles Grodin's scowls in "Beethoven." That's esay, cheap humor and a couple of token laughs for the adults forced to watch most children's dreck isn't enough to keep me enthralled. I'm talking about movies that you can freely admit you like as a solidly-in-your-30s adult. You know, like "Shrek."

This is where "Over the Hedge" fills a solid void - this is a fine movie with plenty of thought-provoking adult themes and cute cuddly widdle animals and sight gags to keep the kids distracted. This is also a movie that pretty much openly attacks the ridiculousness of most its viewing audience - suburbanites.

The plot is easy enough for the kids to understand, and with plenty of layers of subtext to keep the adults glued. RJ the crafty raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) has destroyed the food and goodies stash of a mean old bear Vincent (voiced by Nick Nolte), and needs to replace the stash, or get crushed. RJ heads towards a new suburban development that will be instantly familar to anybody living within a 50 mile radius of any major city. The `burb, chock full of American excess, has been built next to a small patch of woods where a group of animals, like Verne the Turtle (Garry Shandling) and Hammy the Squirrel (Steve Carrel) have been hibernating all winter. They wake up to find a massive hedge (a type of plant unknown to them before the winter's nap) blocking most of their forest, severely cutting into their ability to forage for the next winter. Enter RJ, armed with a golf bag full of fishing poles, boomerangs, expertise on the human species and opposable thumbs. He shows the interspecies family how to navigate through suburbia's pitfalls, such as garden gnomes, roller bladers, SUVs, and home owners' associations hellbent on preserving their property values.

The movie manages to be cute, entertaining, funny, educational AND thought-provoking, without ever really getting boring or heavy-handed. It's a deft balancing job, but the Dreamworks crew manages to pull it off. The soundtrack is made mostly of Ben Folds songs, and he's a hipper Randy Newman. The voice casting was nearly a grand slam, with great vocal performances by Shandling, Carell, William Shatner, Catherine O' Hara, Allison Janney, Thomas Hayden Church, Wanda Sykes and Eugene Levy. Only a sub-par effort by Willis (who peaked at voice work in "Guess Who's Talking Now) mars the voice work. It's obvious the producers wanted to have another big name voice RJ, as both Jim Carrey and Bill Murray were considered for the role. Shame, too. There are dozens of voice actors who would have done a better job than Willis, and cheaper, too.

But that's not a major concern. What sets "Over the Hedge" apart is the keen, laser-guided attack on American culture, especially of those who seek comfort in living in planned communities with cul-de-sacs and manicured lawns. The movie targets our obsession with junk food, our desire for large vehicles, our craving for entertainment and the overinflated sense of self-importance more than a few of us carry. The depiction of the stereotypical suburban power mom is so spot-on that many of the stereotypical suburban power moms in the audience may miss their own on-screen skewering. You've got to love a movie willing to bite, chomp and gnaw on the hand that feeds it.

9 out of 11 Whammies! Over the Hedge would earn a perfect Whammy! score if not for Bruce Willis' phoned-in performance and the fact that no actual suburbanites were harmed in the making of this film.

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