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Nice to look at but not much there

By Lady Liberty
web posted March 14, 2005


** out of ****

RobotsI'm not big on animation or on kids' movies in general, but I do like good graphics. The trailers suggested that Robots would be chock full of good graphics at the least, and so I braved a theatre populated by far too many children for my taste to see the film. The end result wasn't too surprising in that the graphics really are as good as you think they are, but the film is burdened with a script that's mediocre at best. Even the art work and a truly stellar cast can't quite make up for that significant shortcoming.

Robots is set in a world filled with robots (creative titling there) of whom one is intrepid inventor Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan MacGregor). Rodney is a small town son of a small time dishwasher who dreams of bigger and better things for himself. He's encouraged in his ambition by the famous Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks), a wealthy businessbot Rodney regularly sees on television. After one final humiliation, Rodney decides to head for Robot City once and for all to meet Bigweld and seek his fortune.

Robot City is nothing like the small and friendly Rivet Town, however, and Rodney soon finds himself lost in the crowd. He's accosted by a panhandler named Fender (Robin Williams), and cruelly teased by the gatekeeper at Bigweld Industries. With help from Wonderbot (his invention), he does manage to gain a brief audience with the powers that be at Bigweld including the ruthless Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) and the pretty and perky Cappy (Halle Berry). But Bigweld himself is nowhere to be found, and Rodney finds himself out on the streets in short order.

With nowhere to go and no friends in sight, Rodney runs into the irrepressible Fender again. Fender introduces Rodney to a small group of outmoded robots referred to by their "betters" as "Rusties," and offers Rodney a place to stay. With no other prospects, Rodney accepts the invitation to room with Piper Pinwheeler (Amanda Byrnes), Crank Casey (Drew Carey), and Aunt Fanny (Jennifer Coolidge). But even as Rodney struggles to survive in the big city, Ratchet and his power hungry mother Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent) have big plans. And some of those plans involves getting rich by getting rid of the Rusties.

As I mentioned, the graphics for Robots are astounding. One of the big problems programmers have experienced with CGI is the difficulty in rendering natural textures like flesh and hair. With the settings and characters in Robots composed entirely of metal and plastic, CGI is able to render every frame both realistically and quite literally without flaw. The intricacy of the settings, too, is fantastic. I suspect you could see Robots more than once and discover new background elements every time in almost every scene.

The acting is also largely top notch. Ewan MacGregor is just terrific in the persona of a young man who has not yet realized that he has limitations (and who refuses to acknowledge them for long when he finally learns about them). Robin Williams is his usual over-the-top self, but that's perfect for the mess that is Fender. Mel Brooks and Greg Kinnear are also very good, and so are Jennifer Coolidge and the young Amanda Byrnes. Jim Broadbent is a surprise as far as casting goes, but turns out to be perfect as the evil Madame Gasket. Halle Berry, however, seems flat in her role (we all know the Oscar winner is capable of better), and Drew Carey sadly isn't much better.

The biggest problem with Robots—and it is, unfortunately, a big problem—is a script that's sorely lacking. There are brief moments featuring some genuinely funny lines (and there's a bit of adult humor thrown in just to keep parents from going totally insane when they bring the kids to the theatre), but in the main the humor is strained at best and more often absent all together. The plot is an old and trite one, and its execution is entirely predictable. And though not a musical, there's a musical number thrown in to the middle of the movie that is both pointless and silly—the latter not in a good way.

Small kids will likely love the movie even though there are things they won't understand. Older kids and adults will probably not be quite so thrilled thanks to the entirely lackluster storyline and script. Animation aficionados, though, will simply have to add Robots to their "must see" list. Like Polar Express, the graphics alone make the admission worth the price.

(As an aside, Robots is brought to you by the same people who made Ice Age, a popular film that I did not see. There was, however, a trailer for the upcoming Ice Age sequel shown before the feature film began. I laughed harder and longer at the trailer than I did at anything that followed it. Admittedly, the trailer is hysterical. By the same token, it's only 90 seconds long as opposed to a movie that was 90 minutes long and which offered, in my opinion, less entertainment value.)

POLITICAL NOTES: There's a good deal of politically correct "you're special because you're you" verbiage in this film, and much of it is probably okay given its very young targeted audience. There are also darker and more adult notes, however, in implications for such things as nationalized health care and welfare for those who care to look even peripherally between the lines. Lest you wonder too long, yes, the film apparently favors these things. And by using the obvious plight of the Rusties to make its points, the young and naive are going to be convinced to favor these things as well.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Robots is rated PG for "some brief language and suggestive humor." I didn't personally see anything objectionable in Robots for even the youngest children (although we're exposed yet again to what is apparently de rigueur humor for kids in movies these days: fart jokes). It's true that there are a few suggestive lines, but you'll have to be older to understand them. I suspect that Robots will prove quite popular with the younger set, but for those older than about 8, it'll be a much harder sell.


** 1/2 out of ****

HostageI realize that most action-genre movies don't win awards or get a lot of critical praise (though the mountains of money some of these movies make is probably a more-than-adequate compensation). I also freely confess that I like them. I like Bruce Willis, too, so there wasn't much question that Hostage was going to be on my list of movies to see this weekend.

Hostage follows the career of Los Angeles hostage negotiator Jeffrey Talley (Bruce Willis) who, with some years as a SWAT officer and then a successful hostage negotiator, is much in demand. But after an incident he considers to be both his failure and his fault, Talley leaves to become the chief of police in a small town away from the big city. Ironically, the career change has been hard on his wife, Jane (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter, Amanada (Rumer Willis) thanks to the commute involved. But Talley himself needs the relief from the pressure cooker of LA's violent crime scene, and the smaller and bucolic community provides that for him. What Talley doesn't count on, however, is a series of events that combine into an explosive situation on his new beat.

Three teenage hoodlums who are angry with their dismissal by a rich girl decide to follow her home and steal the expensive vehicle her father drives. But Dennis Kelly (Jonathan Tucker), his brother, Kevin (Marshall Allman), and Dennis' new acquaintance, Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster) bite off more than they can chew when they invade the home of wealthy accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack). The Smith residence is well protected by a variety of security mechanisms, but Smith's own false sense of security proves his downfall where the violent teens are concerned. After terrorizing Smith and his children, Jennifer (Michelle Horn) and Tommy (Jimmy Bennett), a silent alarm brings a police presence and traps the teens inside with the family they now decide to take hostage. Their efforts to get out of the trouble they're in don't take into account, however, the fact that Smith is engaged in some shady dealings of his own.

Meanwhile, Talley is still determined to back away from situations like those he dealt with in LA, and he gives jurisdiction over to county authorities. But Talley, too, is surprised into taking action when his own wife and child are taken hostage to enforce demands that he handle the Smith hostage negotiations personally. More and more, Talley begins to see that there's another failure in the making as he must decide which family to save and which will pay for his choice with their lives.

Bruce Willis is by no stretch a Laurence Olivier, but he's a good actor and the action genre is his niche. The other actors in the film are fine, too, but the real standout here has got to be Ben Foster. Some of you may be more familiar with Mr. Foster as a sensitive and almost effete boyfriend on HBO's Six Feet Under. If so, you'll find Foster's departure from less threatening characters to be even more impressive than it is even as a stand alone performance. It was also fun to see Bruce Willis' daughter, Rumer, play his daughter in the movie. Though her role is relatively small, she acquitted herself well (with genes like she's got, that's probably not a big surprise).

In some parts, Hostage is relatively predictable. In others, the plot twists and turns prove to be a real surprise. In other words, the script is somewhat uneven. The editing and the direction, however, are good, and the story as a whole is interesting. And those with any kind of an artistic bent will think they've died and gone to heaven when they see the opening credits.

Hostage is not an unflawed movie by any stretch of the imagination. But if you're looking for your action fix for spring, Hostage will probably do the trick.

POLITICAL NOTES: There's some gun handling in the film that will continue to give the ignorant the false impression that handguns are both deadly and deadly accurate at all times, and that people who are good shots can take out an entire room in a firefight without being shot themselves. You and I likely understand that this is poetic license, but there are too many people who look at movies for educational purposes. There's also a strong implication throughout the film that we must rely on law enforcement to protect us even though it sometimes fails to do so. When films feed into such people's already unreasonable fears, that makes those scenes a real threat to liberty.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Hostage is rated R for "strong graphic violence, language, [and] some drug use." The violence is, indeed, graphic, and there's a good deal of it. The situations the hostage Smith children must deal with are also far too frightening for younger kids. The combination of some very adult situations and the level and frequency of violence lead me to believe that Hostage is best suited for those of about 15 or 16 and up. If you want to see Hostage, my best advice is that you either leave the little ones at home or that you send them to see Robots.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.


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