Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Bee Movie - Review by Sandra Dupuy

Director: Steve Hickner & Simon J. Smith
Screenwriter: Jerry Seinfeld & Spike Feresten

Running Time: 90 mins
Certificate: U
Released: Out now

Seinfeld is back! But not with George, Kramer or Elaine. Deadpan Jerry is back as a bee. The story would have it that the comedian, in an effort to revive a dinner conversation with Spielberg, blurted out an idea about a bee comedy. His improbable collaboration with DreamWorks raises Bee Movie above the company’s trademark mix of pop satire and cheap slapstick, bordering on crass with the Shrek sequels.

Jerry Seinfeld provides the voice for Barry B. Benson, a young bee who has just graduated (with “a perfect report card: all B’s”) and is about to start working for Honex, a honey corporation which hasn’t give a bee a day off in 27 million years. Barry’s not sure what job to choose. His nerdy friend Adam (Matthew Broderick) accepts his drone future but Barry yearns to do something more than spend his entire bug life carrying out the same rote job. In a bravado moment, he signs up with the “Pollen Jocks”, chesty heroes who are the only bees allowed high-speed pollinating air raids outside the hive.

The opening scenes are incredibly inventive. With everything blobby and bright, the hive’s visual world resembles a sweet and sunny version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, peopled by buzzing black and yellow Barry look-alikes, bearing customized antennae that swiftly change into hand-free phones. Outside the hive, the squadron’s flight into New-York is a bravura piece in which a swirling camera moves from Central Park’s vibrant flora to the flying surface of a tennis ball to a roller-coaster jaunt in a speeding car.

Barry’s most hilarious encounter is with Mooseblood the Mosquito (an insanely funny Chris Rock) during a wild ride on a truck’s windshield. Contrarily to Eddie Murphy’s innocuous and servile donkey, Rock ventures into making fun of blacks and his frantic identity riffs on his brethren– they’re so despicable female mosquitoes want to “trade them up for moths” - give the film, otherwise soft and fuzzy, the hint of a sting.

However, as soon as Barry ventures into the human world, the rest of the movie is pretty conventional. The maverick bee’s close encounter with kind florist Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellweger, whose syrupy voice is still more bearable than all her squints and pouts) is bound to sink into sticky terrain, all the more because Vanessa and her bee-allergic lug of a boyfriend (Patrick Warburton) gesticulate and make faces in an exaggerated and mechanical way.

Bee Movie’s major hitch lies in its bland visual characterization. One of Seinfeld’s main comedy assets lies in the use of his face as a major medium of expression. The success of the 90s eponymous series relied on the comedian’s practised timing and delivery but most of all on his physical presence, the narrowing of his eyes and the raising of his eyebrows, or the absence of it for a deadpan effect. Unfortunately, Seinfeld’s onscreen incarnation, a computer-animated bee with a banal plastic-looking face, doesn’t help identifying with hero Barry. Nor does the shallow emotional range the comedian displays. While Chris Rock’s high-pitched ranting rap does wonders, Seinfeld’s performance, from mildly puzzled to moderately pleased, is far from enthralling.

The film contains nonetheless enough eye-candy and witty one-liners like the TiVo one (“You mean they can freeze live TV? That’s insane!”) to satisfy kids and adults alike. The second part plunges us into a satirical courtroom plot that erupts just as the love story’s getting too sweet. Barry discovers that the honey manufactured by bigwigs Honron and Honeyburton is stolen from captive bees to be sold in supermarkets. He decides to sue the human race to get back the sticky gold. Some of the nastiest and best jokes are directed at Ray “He’s no goodfella, he’s a BADfella!” Liotta (who produces his own honey brand) and John Goodman steals the show as an over-the-top Southern lawyer.

Despite Seinfeld’s enthusiastic involvement as Bee Movie’s main screenwriter and performer, the funniest moments of the film seem to happen when he’s in the background. Chris Rock’s funky mosquito, for instance, deserves a whole film to himself. It’s a shame, considering how brilliantly the series commented on the routine of everyday life. So it may not be the bee’s knees, as far as Seinfeld fans are concerned, but it’s the most decent DreamWorks toon in a long time: a sweet slice of entertainment, at times truly beguiling.

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