Friday, June 17, 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet

Directed Kelly Asbury.
2011. Rated G, 84 minutes.
James McAvoy
Emily Blunt
Michael Caine
Ashley Jensen
Jason Statham
Matt Lucas
Jim Cummings
Maggie Smith
Ozzie Osbourne
Patrick Stewart
Hulk Hogan

Plenty of movies rehash tired formulas, try to inject new life into them and pretend to be extracted purely from the filmmakers imagination. Gnomeo & Juliet does loads of rehashing, but holds no false pretenses about its originality. It recognizes that it is merely a copy of not only the original, but of the countless copies that have come before. It even tells us this right at the beginning. In case the title isn’t obvious enough, the original is William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Indeed, our seldom seen human characters are named the Montagues and Capulets. They live next door to one another. Cleverly, their addresses are 2B and Not 2B. Nevermind that this references an entirely different play. It’s funny if you understand it. Even the bard himself makes an appearance in the guise of a statue voiced by Patrick Stewart.

Our focus, however, is on the garden gnomes that live in the yards of our fueding homeowners. In a very Toy Story type of way, the gnomes spring to life when the humans aren’t looking. Like the humans, the two groups are constantly bickering and competing. Often, things get rather ugly. True to the Shakespeare classic, a guy from one side, Gnomeo (McAvoy), meets and immediately falls madly in love with a girl from the other side, Juliet (Blunt). Lots of property damage ensues.

The movie’s humor is spotty. There are lots of jokes my children didn’t laugh at, even a little. At others, they did so loudly.That is, at the jokes meant for them. The ones meant for us parents aren’t so much jokes as they are a stream of references to films we’re familiar with. Some of them work marvelously, many fall flat. This is a big problem with G & J. It just keeps referencing or copying other movies in hopes these will be funny. This is why we can indentify shots stolen from The Matrix and dialogue from Brokeback Mountain without necessarily getting a charge from either. For the kids, these are just meaningless moments that quickly pass.

Where the battle lines are drawn and the resulting violence is troublesome. I’m no puritan calling for the complete sanitization of cinema. I’ve watched and enjoyed plenty of movies, a number of them kiddie flicks. Here, it feels too much like something else we’ve become all too aware of. Gnomeo is a blue gnome while Juliet is a red. The two sides breaking into all out war whenever someone from one side is in the other side’s yard is awfully reminiscent of the real life gang problem. I wouldn’t mind if there were some point to it. There is not. It could also be construed as misleading because one character is presumably killed and comes back only for the sake of not having a death in a kids’ movie. Again, this is coming from someone who loves old school Looney Toons. However, the leap to reality is a lot further for a coyote and a road runner than it is for a group of reds and blues wailing on each other at every opportunity.

There are good parts to G & J. As I said earlier, there are moments that are just flat out funny. There are others that are creative, despite the seemingly constant nods to other, better movies. Still, it seems to be enough to satisfy its target audience. They’ll probably like it, not love it. You may like it, you may not. It’s fast-paced, loud, sometimes funny and occasionally cute. Meh.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

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