No sting in this gen­tle tale

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Stratton

WATCH­ING the new DreamWorks an­i­mated film Bee Movie, in which Jerry Se­in­feld, who co- pro­duced and co­scripted, voices the char­ac­ter of Barry B. Ben­son, a bee with at­ti­tude, I was re­minded of an old 78rpm record­ing I played as a child. Bri­tish co­me­dian Arthur Askey sang about the plea­sures of be­ing ‘‘ a busy busy bee whiling away the pass­ing hours sip­ping all the pollen from the cauliflow­ers’’.

Se­in­feld’s Barry is much like Askey’s hero, though Se­in­feld takes the hu­man­is­ing of the Apis mel­lif­era a stage fur­ther by al­low­ing the in­sect to con­nect with hu­mans, much like the ami­able rat did in Rata­touille .

The hive in which Barry has evolved is de­scribed as ‘‘ the most per­fectly func­tion­ing so­ci­ety on earth’’. Hav­ing grad­u­ated from high school with his friend, Adam, who has the voice of Matthew Brod­er­ick, Barry looks for­ward to a life slav­ing away for Honex, the bees’ honey mo­nop­oly: em­ploy­ees of the com­pany haven’t been given a day off in 27 mil­lion years. Barry, though, is a rebel. He wants to see the world out­side the hive and the only way to achieve this is to be­come a ‘‘ pollen jock’’, bees who ven­ture out like air force pi­lots on dan­ger­ous mis­sions.

Out­side, Barry finds life ex­tremely dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially since he isn’t keen to use his ul­ti­mate weapon, his sting, for fear it will kill him. He finds him­self bat­ted about on a ten­nis court, swat­ted, stuck on a car wind­screen. Hu­mans are pretty vi­o­lent to­wards the harm­less bees, ex­cept for Vanessa ( Re­nee Zell­weger), a florist who saves his life and be­comes his first hu­man friend. Barry’s ad­ven­tures in the world of hu­mans con­clude with a won­der­fully strange se­quence in which he goes to court to sue the hu­man race for steal­ing honey from the bees.

The hu­mour here is, as you’d ex­pect, wry and gen­tly amus­ing, with few op­por­tu­ni­ties to satirise the world of the Amer­i­can celebrity over­looked. Oprah Win­frey and Larry King are re­ferred to, while Ray Liotta is crit­i­cised for mar­ket­ing his own brand of honey and Sting is mocked for his name. The fun­ni­est char­ac­ter by far is a quar­rel­some, fast- talk­ing grasshop­per, voiced by Chris Rock, but he isn’t given the screen time he de­serves. The an­i­ma­tion is skil­ful, and the var­i­ous char­ac­ters are de­picted with amuse­ment and af­fec­tion, but the film is not as laugh- out- loud funny as some of its pre­de­ces­sors in the an­i­ma­tion genre.

The bar for this kind of film has been raised so high that it’s dif­fi­cult to find some­thing re­ally fresh to add, and Se­in­feld and his col­lab­o­ra­tors, in­clud­ing direc­tors Si­mon Smith and Steve Hick­ner, while pro­vid­ing an ami­able en­ter­tain­ment, haven’t come up with a clas­sic. FOR much of its length, 1408, an old- fash­ioned hor­ror film about a haunted ho­tel room, is a show­case for the tal­ents of John Cu­sack, who plays a cyn­i­cal ghost- story writer. Based on a Stephen King story, the film es­tab­lishes Cu­sack’s char­ac­ter, Mike Enslin, as a smart- arse who has be­trayed his early prom­ise as a writer to churn out a se­ries of unin­spired best­sellers about the world of ghosts.

We dis­cover later that his cyn­i­cal ex­te­rior hides a trou­bled soul, but by that time Enslin is deep in a night­mare of his own cre­ation. He reg­u­larly re­ceives in­for­ma­tion from mem­bers of the pub­lic about os­ten­si­bly haunted sites and is in­trigued when he gets a post­card warn­ing him not to en­ter room 1408 at the Dol­phin Ho­tel in Man­hat­tan.

At first he as­sumes it’s an­other at­tempt by the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness to mar­ket creepi­ness in place of com­fort; he notes that the num­bers add up to 13. But he be­comes in­trigued when he’s un­able to re­serve that par­tic­u­lar room for any night at any price; he is forced to evoke a fed­eral law to be given ac­cess and even then the ho­tel man­ager ( Samuel L. Jack­son) warns him that, dur­ing the past 95 years, 56 deaths have oc­curred in the room. De­spite this ad­vice, Enslin checks into the room pre­pared to scoff, but he soon finds that the warn­ings were not friv­o­lous and that some­thing im­pla­ca­bly evil does, in­deed, in­habit the room.

For most of the film Cu­sack is alone on screen fac­ing the mount­ing hor­rors that sur­round him, and here the ac­tor’s con­sid­er­able skills are on full dis­play. In the end, though, 1408 falls well short of be­ing a clas­sic hor­ror film, not least be­cause King seems to be re­peat­ing him­self. ( There’s more than a sug­ges­tion of The Shin­ing here.)

Di­rec­tor Mikael Haf­strom came to the fore in his na­tive Swe­den four years ago with Evil, a drama set in a boys board­ing school, and made his Hol­ly­wood de­but with De­railed in which rail com­muter Clive Owen found him­self in a night­mare of his own mak­ing. Th­ese films share with 1408 an in­ter­est­ing premise that is not sat­is­fac­to­rily re­solved; like them the new film is full of in­trigu­ing, im­pres­sively re­alised el­e­ments, but a bet­ter movie should have re­sulted from th­ese in­gre­di­ents.

Honey in short sup­ply: The an­i­ma­tion and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion in Bee Movie is skil­ful, but the film not as laugh- out- loud funny as some of its pre­de­ces­sors in the an­i­ma­tion genre

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.