Friday, February 3, 2012

The Smurfs

Directed by Raja Gosnell.
2011. Rated PG, 103 minutes.
Hank Azaria
Neil Patrick Harris
Jonathan Winters
George Lopez
Katy Perry
Jayma Mays
Sofia Vergara
Fred Armisen
Anton Yelchin
Kenan Thompson
Jeff Foxworthy
Tim Gunn

There was a time when “The Smurfs” were a part of my Saturday morning routine. This not only included the show, but also Smurfberry Crunch cereal whenever I could get it. Watching Papa Smurf, Smurfette and the other 99 smurfs foil the evil Gargamel week after week was wholesome cheesy 80s fun. If, back then, a movie based on that show and including real-live people were to come out I would’ve been smurfed to see it. I would’ve saved up the twenty bucks to get me and my siblings each a ticket. Wow, $20 for four of us. Remember those days? Anyhoo, we would’ve been first in the smurfing line the day it opened. Now, better than a quarter century later and having seen numerous craptacular movies based on old TV shows, I’m not so smurfed. Regardless, here I am losing to curiosity and fatherhood once again. Of course my daughter wanted to see this. What? I can’t take all the smurfing blame.

As usual, Papa Smurf (Winters) and his clan of little blue people take on the smurf obsessed Gargamel (Azaria). What’s different is the setting. On the show, nearly every episode took place entirely in the area just big enough to include both Smurf Village and Gargamel’s castle. The movie starts us there but very quickly a half-dozen smurfs, Gargamel and his equally evil cat Azriel wind up in New York City through a bit of hocus pocus. Our heroes spend the rest of the movie trying to find whatever magic is necessary to get back home and avoid Gargamel.

While in the Big Apple, Papa and crew wind up crashing at the apartment of a young married couple, Patrick (Harris) and his pregnant wife Grace (Mays). He’s a career driven ad exec smurfing for his relentless boss Odile (Vergara). She seems to mostly stay at home, talking to the baby in her belly. They have two purposes for being in the movie. First, they provide the smurfs with a place to stay and play “Guitar Hero.” More importantly, they will learn an important lesson when our adventure is over.

The Smurfs is one of those movies that doesn’t do anything smurfily bad nor anything esmurfily good, either. It just drones on pretty blandly. Clumsy Smurf does something clumsy and puts the others in danger. They try to rescue him, narrowly escaping Gargamel who then has an aside with the cat and concocts his next plan. Rinse, repeat. In that respect it’s not much different than the old cartoon. That’s probably as good as we can hope for.

If there is one thing that rises above the level of mediocre, it’s the performance of Hank Azaria as Gargamel. He is absolutely smurfect. Not only does he present us with exactly what we thought a live-action version of the villain would be but he’s clearly having a blast at the same time. On the flipside, I was disappointed with George Lopez’s Grouchy Smurf. It’s not necessarily his fault, but the character feels the least true to what they were on the show. That Grouchy didn’t say much and started almost all of his very short sentences with “I hate…” This version talks constantly and is somewhat a grouch, but in a way much more reminiscent of the actor’s character from his own sitcom.

I have to admit, The Smurfs is far better than I thought it would be. Thankfully, it doesn’t induce a pain similar to being repeatedly kicked in the groin like Yogi Bear. It’s still not really a “good” movie. It’s merely a pleasant, if unremarkable time-passer that manages to maintain nostalgia and cuteness. This will likely not be the case going forward. For proof, see the Alvin and the Chipmunks and Transformers franchises. Therefore I hope, probably in vain, that the powers that be don’t shove a smurfing sequel down our smurfing throats. This one is watchable, but I get the feeling I’m all smurfed out.

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