Movie Review: “Deepwater Horizon”

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We’re entitled to a little skepticism when a movie titled “Deepwater Horizon” pitches itself as about “the heroes” of the worst oil spill disaster in U.S. history.

Somebody, a lot of somebodies, screwed up. The consequences were dire for the environment and deadly for many of the working class Joes the film depicts.

But as all hell is breaking loose on the drilling ship way offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, you see a name tag, Burkeen, and the guy wearing it (Jason Kirkpatrick). The rig has had a blowout that’s turned into an inferno, and the survivors’ only way off is by lifeboats that a burning, teetering crane is almost sure to destroy.

The crane operator, Aaron Dale Burkeen, sees that, and even as his mates are yelling “What are you DOING?”, clambers up behind the controls and renders it harmless at the cost of his own life.

And that’s when you realize, maybe we don’t know the story here.

Peter Berg’s film is a Mark Walhberg/Kurt Russell action picture that takes you inside the exploding rig, with sound effects so real that you’ll hunch down in your seat to dodge the rivets and debris shrieking past your ears.

If has a villain — BP, a multi-national multi-billion dollar corporation only too eager to take shortcuts — and the villain is personified by John Malkovich as the guy in charge of the drilling, a drawling Louisianan determined to get this “hole from hell” back on budget. He’s authorized skipping a crucial pressure test that rig boss Jimmy Harrell (Russell) and electrician and eyewitness to this all Mike Williams (Wahlberg) are shocked to discover when they return to the ship for their weeks-long shift.

“No mud, no flow. We got to go!” Vidrine Cajun-coos, and so they do.

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Berg and the screenwriters set up a neat class conflict, cavalier bosses worried only about their higher-ups vs. the working men and woman, Andrea Flytes (Gina Rodriguez), one of the pilots steering the “ship” to keep it over the bore-hole, who suffer the consequences.

Wahlberg’s Mike is an ex-Marine with a wife (Kate Hudson) and kid and an ex-military way of looking at BP’s wishful thinking, which he calls the “hope as a tactic” delusion.

“Hope ain’t a tactic, Don.”

Yes, the foreshadowing is overt — not subtle. As in “Sully,” we know what’s about to happen. But unlike that true story, we don’t know the specifics, and Berg recreates both the massive rig (“Anything that big ought to be made by God.”) and its state, held together by “band-aids and bubble-gum,” mud-covered crews overworked and disaster lurking.

The chaos of the blow-out and specifics of the injuries and fatalities are as harrowing as any action picture, and too close to real for comfort. We don’t get to invest in many characters, and we await that moment when the star yells at somebody “I am NOT gonna die on this rig!”

But Berg (“Lone Survivor,””The Kingdom,””The Rundown”) finds the humor in the banter of clock-punchers, the eye-rolling sarcasm that’s your only defense when somebody in a higher pay grade gives orders that are an accident waiting to happen.

He makes “Deepwater Horizon” a disaster movie that works by putting us there, letting us second-guess along with the experts and shake our heads that justice and responsibility for the guilty is different when they’ve got the money and the backing of a gigantic company to soften that blow.

And Berg reminds us that even in the worst disaster, people can be selfless, heroic, and in the case of Aaron Dale Burkeen, professional even if those who gamble with their fates are not.

3stars2

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, John Malkovich,  Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee
Credits: Directed by Peter Berg, script by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand. A Summit release.

Running time: 1:47

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“Trolls” — the early buzz turns uglier as the JT sountrack takes a beating

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On the surface, it looks like the most cynical kids’ cartoon since those godawful “Barbie” straight to videos your little girls adored.. Still, “The Lego Movie” — they’d had years of practice making spoof videos — came off, so maybe “Trolls” won’t be as bad as the trailers.

Just because a studio played brand-leech and made a movie out of kids’ toys doesn’t mean it has to suck.

But this musical package comes with a Justin Timberlake tunes, and a soundtrack. And now that people are hearing that soundtrack, well, it’s not pretty. It’s a shark-jumping moment for JT, according to Jezebel. 

Ouch.

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Box Office: “Mag Seven” ride off with $37, “Storks” deliver $22+

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Denzel Washington still packs an action picture punch, and Chris Pratt has another hit under his belt as “The Magnificent Seven” gallops off to a $37 million opening weekend, right in line with projections of what this remake built around those two and a name director (Antoine Fuqua) would do.

Reviews were mixed, but the movie went for multiple demographics in the casting and emphasized the action, if not the smarts, heart and soul of the original films — “Seven Samurai” and 1960 “Magnificent Seven.” That’s a great opening for a Western, by any measure.

I think the true story action drama “Deepwater Horizon” will eat this middling “epic” for lunch next week, but we’ll see.

“Storks,” the Warner Animation cartoon won’t be setting any records. Opening in the same window as such hits as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “Hotel Transylvania,” it felt like a hard sell and Friday’s numbers back that up – $20-21, for the weekend is what they indicate.

As with all animated fare, Saturday will be the most telling. It’s not dazzling enough to blow up —reviews have been middling — but mid$20s seems within reach.

“Sully,” which opened at $35 weeks ago, remains a big draw, “Bridget Jones’s Baby” remains a let down. Fringe fare such as “Snowden” and “Hillsong” are fading away.

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Books the the Big Screen — So, what’s next?

 

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Killing time before a recent screening, I ducked into a Big Box Book Store and found myself stopping short at the vast collection of fiction and graphic novels bundled near the entrance.

With every given week carrying news of some new deal that Marvel/Disney or DC/Warner Brothers or not-to-be-left-out-Fox has made, some fresh comic book property on its way, the mind reels as the eye wanders over titles.

In comic book terms, Den Of Geek has listed 69 titles (and counting), with “Doctor Strange” leading the way and a sea of sequels to earlier films close on its heels. “Bloodshot”? That’s a new one on me.

Interviewing the fellow who wrote “Men in Black” and the creator of “Surrogates,” to say nothing of Frank Miller, Robert Rodriquez (“Sin City”) and Zack Snyder (“300,””Watchmen,” “Batman v. Superman”) long ago disabused me of the mistaken and widely held notion that comics/graphic novels are easily adapted because the narrative, characters and zingy one-liners are already in storyboard form. But “Sin City” and its ilk seemed to prove the contrary. They ARE easier, because the storyboards ARE already done for you.

But the reason we’re seeing a sea of such titles is because so few comic book/graphic novel adaptations bomb. They’re money in the bank. Why? They’re branded, pre-sold to a ready-made audience that knows the title/characters/basic plot.

No, there’s no new “Lord of the Rings” out there, beloved by generations. The closest thing to that, the C.S. Lewis “Narnia” books, ran out of gas pretty quickly.

The recent abandonment (more or less) of the cut-and-paste YA (young adult) ripoff series “Divergent” suggests Hollywood has realized that as yet, it has no replacement for “The Hunger Games,” with even “The Maze Runner” series not coming close to the films that made Jennifer Lawrence famous.

Stephen King is back in the Big Picture game, thanks to “Dark Tower.” But for…how long?

Titles are always bubbling up as Hollywood is starved for fresh material, but what has this fall’s book to big picture buzz?

 

Care to bet on any of them? Over at sportsbettingdime.com they’re putting decent odds on the world suffering through another Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

“Mortal Engines” (by Philip Reeve) may be on Hollywood’s YA radar for a franchise.

Could there be interest in other Judy Blume kids’ books adapted for the screen?

I read mostly non-fiction, but would you bet that anybody would take another shot at a Hemingway biopic, another “Desert Fox” WWII ? If people will line up for a new Spider-Man every six years, why not?

Russell Crowe has lobbied, after his fall from grace, for Fox to leap back into the “Master & Commander” series by the late Patrick O’Brian. I remember his cheekiness when the first film came out. I asked Crowe if he’d signed on to do sequels, and he laughed like a man who had leverage and didn’t want to give any of it away. The leverage is long gone, but that series could easily, if expensively, brought back to life. Any chance of that happening?

Writers, especially these days, often get their first decent paycheck not from their publishers but from Hollywood (per Kate DiCamillo of “Because of Winn-Dixie.” She told me she bought a Mini Cooper with the cash). So they’re eager to sell.

Who can we turn up the buzz for, other readers out there in movie loving land? Any titles that leap to mind? Famous writers, new talents? Non-fiction? Comment below.

 

 

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John LeCarre’ finds his funnybone with a memoir — “The Pigeon Tunnel”

book1I’ve worn out this line, using in virtually every review of a film or TV series based on his work, but it’s worth trotting out one last time.

In spy fiction, there is a master, John LeCarre, and then there’s everybody else. I mean, check out the links at the bottom of this review to see further proof of my LeCarre lust.

The author of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Little Drummer Girl” and “The Constant Gardener” and “The Tailor of Panama” and that most recent adaptation, “Our Kind of Traitor,” is all alone in capturing the grays and shifting morality of the Cold War and the spy game that both predates it and survives ever onward, a relic of conflicts past and the insurance policy for conflicts to come.

Take away “The Tailor,” a darkly comic vision of The Game of Nations as played out by a con man and the blackmailing British agent new to the country with the canal (Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan faced off in the movie) and you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of humor in his ouevre.

book2Not so LeCarre’s memoir, “The Pigeon Tunnel.” I can’t recall a collection of memories and anecdotes that made me laugh out loud this much. It’s not just the odd funny story — LeCarre, the pen name of ex-British Intelligence agent David Cornwell, worked with Alec Guiness over two TV series and just nails the man’s talent and dry wit — but the ludicrous situations he injects himself into.

He shares the inspiring inspiration — a French aid worker in Cambodia and elsewhere — whom he based the heroine of “The Constant Gardener” on, and assorted other real life people he noted, carefully, before spinning their lives as journalist spies or idealists or what have you into fictional creations.

But he also lets on that his wasn’t much of an MI5/MI6 career, and that the real danger he’s gotten himself into came after writing fame, when he had the cheek to research his books, meeting Arafat and a German leftist terrorist in a secret Israeli prison, the grizzled Beirut war correspondent who dragged “the war zone tourist” (himself) into harm’s way to meet real Palestinian fighters and victims of the fighting. The reporter, “Mo,” calls and addresses everyone as “Ass’l,” so that the various Arabs they run into sound like the profane acolytes of some latter day Lawrence of Arabia.

“Ass’l David, you are most welcome!”

He recalls falling under the spell of Hollywood director/emperor Sydney Pollack, who wasted a lot of his time promising to make movies that the distraction of learning how to ski (Cornwell owns a Swiss chalet) or a Tom Cruise blockbuster kept him from doing. George Roy Hill of “The Little Drummer Girl” acknowledges, “I f—-d up your movie, David.” The great Fritz Lang wanted to make a movie from one of his early books (Lang was nearly blind, no longer a Hollywood player, never happened).

And then there were his visits to Russia, which he’d battled as a lower-level spook himself, and then skewered in legions of books which, to be fair, ripped the British and U.S. spy apparatus just as severely. Somehow, Cornwell got it into his head that he needed to meet a genuine Russian mobster after the Fall of the Wall had turned the USSR from a tyrannical communist state into one run by robber barons and their protector, Mr. Putin. The interview, fearlessly blunt and darkly comical, is an intimate (nightclub) scene of foolish bravado and hilarious low farce.

A tempting tidbit? His hints at what he learned about DIN, a secret Jewish assassination squad that went around hunting down and summarily executing Nazis after World War II. Unofficial, off the books, privately financed, in business for 30 years, at least.

That’s a book I’d like to read and a movie I’d love to see. I hope it’s on his plate.

For that matter, “The Pigeon Tunnel” itself would make a roaring good film — mild-mannered lower-level spook turns novelist, gets reamed by enemies left and right, and is only shot at AFTER he leaves spying and starts researching his later books.

 

 

 

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Movie Review: There’s no cachet to being “Morris from America”

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Morris Gentry is 13, can’t dance or play basketball and is just too young to make being the only black American kid in Heidelberg, Germany, work for him.

“Morris from America” is a puzzle to his classmates, whose language he barely speaks and who see nothing but a stereotype sitting on the playground,  hiding behind his ear-buds — “Hey, Kobe Bryant!”

His tutor (Carla Juri) sees the “charming” kid underneath the tough guise he’d like to wear.

“Forget charming, I’m a gangsta!”

“Because? ‘Gangstas drink hot chocolate, with one marshmallow?”

“That’s TOTALLY gangsta!”

morris2Soccer coach Dad (Craig Robinson) respects the music, won’t listen to warnings from others that the kid’s attempts at lyrics are profane and misogynistic, and understands the loneliness.

“We’re the only two Brothers in Heidelberg. We’ve got to be on the same team!”

“Morris From America” is a slight, sweet and somewhat unconventional coming-of-age dramedy from the director of “This is Martin Bonner.” It rarely surprises, but it leans on some winning performances to make even the weariest moments of adolescence pay off.

Morris, played by newcomer Markees Christmas without a trace of guile, crushes on a 15 year-old fraulein (Lina Keller), all sunglasses and cigarettes, long curly hair and short skirts. She’ll use him to annoy her shocked mom, invite him to raves as a novelty, treat him as an adult when neither one of them is.

And Morris, like millennia of young men before him, will fall for that.

There’s a wonderful rapport between Robinson (TV’s “The Office,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”) and Christmas, an informal and sometimes profane banter that would be at home in much of African America, but feels like their own secret language in Deutschland.

“You got no taste in music!” “You can’t grind me with that!”

“First you get the high-top fade, THEN you get the girl!”

Christmas is very natural on camera, and easily gets across a kid who has to realize “This isn’t Richmond any more,” trapped in a world of racists and racial profilers — adults and kids — all twisted up in their techno/electro-swing music, dying to spit out some rhymes and stir things up.

As with “Martin Bonner,” writer-director Chad Hartigan is content to set a somber tone, reach for sensitive moments and reveal his characters’ secrets in tiny doses. Robinson lets us see the out-of-his-depth loneliness the father feels and transmits to his son.

The novelty of the setting and the situations wears thin after a bit, but “Morris From America” has a warmth and wit will stick with you, rather like that Dampfnudel you ordered for dessert — just unusual enough to be memorable, just sweet enough to be a pleasant memory.

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MPAA Rating:R for teen drug use and partying, sexual material, brief nudity, and language throughout

Cast: Craig Robinson, Markees Christmas, Carla Juri, Lina Keller
Credits: Written and directed by Chad Hartigan. An A-24 release.

Running time: 1:31

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Weekend Movies: Indifferent reviews for “Storks,” “Magnificent Seven”

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Denzel Washington is still box office in the right vehicle, and that’s what the remake of “The Magnificent Seven” has going for it — Denzel, in a “cool role” as a man of violence.

Nobody else in the cast is much of a draw, though Chris Pratt may be at that point, after “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio to the “Let’s appease our Chinese finance masters” casting of Byung-hun Lee (quite cool, BTW) and “We’ve got a Mexican” (a line from the film, applied to Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).

Reviews won’t be much of a help for it. I found Antonoine Fuqua’s film rather missed the whole “Men of Violence in Need Redemption” theme from “The Seven Samurai” and the original “Magnificent Seven.”

And as funny as D’Onofrio is and as cool as Lee turns out to be, they’re no Brynner/McQueen/Coburn/Bronson/Vaughn. Where’s the punk kid? (Horst Bucholtz)? Where’s Mifune?

Anyway, it should do well enough to take the top spot at the box office from “Sully,” but we’ll see. Box Office Guru figures it’ll hit $38 million.

storks-key-peele“Storks” is a scatterbrained animated comedy with some clever conceits, some very funny supporting players. Think “Madagascar” with “Storks” and wolves in the penguins role.

Weaker reviews, overall, for this one.

It has Warner Brothers behind it, but will that be enough to earn it more money than “Kubo and the Two Strings?” Maybe. Maybe not. A $25 million opening would be a happy day for WB. 

On the offbeat end of the spectrum, the “final” Jerry Lewis movie “Max Rose” makes an appearance in some theaters, here in Orlando and elsewhere. Sentimental? A safe bet.

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Movie Review: “Mr. Church”

church1“Mr. Church” is such a departure for Eddie Murphy that you want to praise the intent if not the outcome.

An actor reviled for decades of godawful paycheck pictures takes on something resembling an indie dramedy, with a “name” director — for the first time — he ought to be praised.

But “Church” is a faintly patronizing period piece about a black man essentially indentured to a beautiful working class white woman and her daughter. He’s to be their cook, even if little Charlotte (Natalie Coughlin) finds the arrangement creepy.

Mr. Church isn’t “Driving Miss Daisy.” He’s feeding Miss Charlotte.

It’s the 1970s, and Charlotte’s mom (Natascha McElhone) has just lost her married lover. But he was a man of means, so he saw to it that Mr. Church (Murphy) would look after her. He’d cook. Since she’s dying of cancer, he’s also a caregiver.

“I was just asked to cook for you and your child until you passed on.”

And Charlotte isn’t to know Mom is dying. Mom only has six months, so this won’t take long.

Murphy abandons every comic instinct he has to play this guy, a comfort-food cook who listens to jazz and smokes and turns out wondrous pies and cakes and stews and grits.

“You never heard of grits?”

But he’s a man of mystery, fierce about his privacy. And as the months turn into years and Mr. Church transforms Charlotte into an avid reader and makes her the envy of friends with his cooking, that mystery deepens. Charlotte (Britt Robertson), narrating from the start to the finish, just grows more curious.

Does he have a secret family? Is there a dark reason for his indebtedness to Mom’s lover? Is he a criminal, a drunk, a closeted gay man with a hidden life?

Sadly, any of those solutions would be more interesting than the one TV sitcom hack Susan McMartin’s “inspired by a true story” comes up with. The plot seems plausible, but the dialogue, characters, situations — everything that fleshes out that plot — is predigested mush.

Charlie’s equally poor friend (Lucy Fry) uses her looks to get the life she thinks she wants, Charlie’s prom date with a dream boat, Charlie’s mom’s lingering illness which never lets her look anything less than gorgeous and healthy? Been there, seen the Lifetime Original Movie.

The odd clever line stands out in this cut-and-paste scenario. Charlie, even at 10, knows she was “an accident.”

“Your DADDY was the accident. YOU were my miracle!”

Charlotte narrates an explanation for why she avoids her mother once she learns how sick she is. She knows what it is “to love someone so much you actually hate them for leaving you.”

There’s a long, labored history of African American helpers/caregivers shaping and teaching white people humanity, from “Member of the Wedding”  to “Driving Miss Daisy” to “The Help.” Bruce Beresford  directed that middle film, and finds nothing interesting or new in this situation here. The whole enterprise feels out of date.

"Cook"

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As for Murphy, he looks at home in the kitchen, less at home at the piano and only lets us see the odd flash of temper in Mr. Church. He’s to give the self-taught cook, pianist and dressmaker (Oh yes) a zen quality, and rarely lets us see emotion.

“Even his weeping was  graceful.”

For anyone who wrote this guy off 20 years ago, the transformation is surprising. But it’s the curse of “Mr. Church” that it’s not more than mere surprise — not startling, dazzling or even that interesting. “Mr. Church” serves up comfort food in an era when every food truck and most indie films offer more interesting fare.

1half-star

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Natascha McElhone
Running time: 1:44
Credits: Directed by Bruce Beresford, script by Susan McMartin. A Cinelou release
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“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week–The Touring Years”

 

 

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After all the decades, all the books and documentaries, is there anything new to discover about the alchemy that created The Beatles and their place in pop culture?

Not really. Throwing Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and the endless BBC and AppleCorps archives at “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years” produces more warm nostalgia, but nothing of the “startling revelation” variety.

The hook, here was how they sounded live, here was how they got that good and here was why they quit touring, has been extensively covered in such docs as “The Beatles Anthology.”

But a lot of the footage is fresh and Howard weaves an engaging overview of their history, with anecdotes, vintage interviews and enough tidbits from surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and some of those who toured with them or saw them live to keep it fun.

Here’s Ringo scrambling, pretty much on his own, to turn his improperly positioned drum kit and riser around on a stage, in the midst of the utter bedlam of shrieking teenage girls. The audiences got so loud he could only keep track of where they were in songs by knowing the posture, gestures and moves of George Harrison by heart.

There’s young Sigourney Weaver, in black and white home movies, at an American tour date in the mid-60s, and here’s Whoopi Goldberg getting choked up at her mother, saving up and surprising her with a trip the famous Shea Stadium show.

A favorite moment? The vast crowd at a Liverpool football (soccer) game, almost entirely men, young and old, singing “She Loves You,” in mid-match in black and white footage from the early ’60s. This city embraced their boys, whole-heartedly.

Ringo talking about “the incredible pressure” of performing in America and McCartney remembering their fear of coming over and failing and what that would mean “back home” isn’t new. But Brit comic Eddie Izzard dissecting their cheeky wit and its anti-establishment (adult) appeal to kids, screenwriter Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) confessing that he’s spent his entire career trying to create ensembles with the comical/witty/familial feel of the band’s press conferences, is.

There’s even a villain, if you can call him that. Howard makes extensive use of Miami radio reporter Larry Kane, who rode and flew with The Fabs on tour during one of the most news-packed years (1964) in history, resenting the assignment, at least at first.

Kane’s recollections, and clips of interviews with the band at the time, talk about their first real exercise of cultural power in America, their insistence that Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl not be segregated for their show, which brought down barriers all over the South, is “The Touring Years'” most pointed remembrance.

Kane himself? Affable, professional, and you can’t help but hate him. I mean, the guy got to hang out with the biggest band ever on the most epochal tour in pop music history. The lucky bastard.

3stars2

 

MPAA Rating: unrated, with incessant smoking, profanity, drug use discussed

Cast: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, George Martin, Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall, Richard Curtis, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Izzard, Larry Kane, Richard Lester, Elvis Costello, Sigourney Weaver
Credits: Directed by Ron Howard, script by Mark Monroe. An ApplesCorps release.

Running time: 2:17

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Movie Review: Dizzy “Storks” deliver the laughs

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There’s a random daftness, or a daft-randomness, that makes the offbeat animated comedy “Storks” fly.

I’m not saying it soars, but the throw-away lines, and odd inspired wacky conceit get this film, from the director of “Neighbors” and screenwriter of the recent “Muppets” movies, airborne.

Winning conceit one — Storks no longer “deliver” babies. There was “an incident,” so they’ve transitioned into hauling packages for cornerstone.com, an Amazon-like retailer where avian non-union labor is cherished.

Winning conceit two — The reason for the “incident,” the reason storks can no longer be trusted to tote infants is a malady that they share with humans and even, it turns out, wolves. Babies make everyone melt with their cuteness.

“Awwwwwww.”

Junior (Andy Samberg) is a stork on the rise, a delivering machine who has utterly absorbed All Storks’ mantra — “Make a plan. Stick to the plan. Always deliver!”

The Boss (Kelsey Grammer) sees Junior as management material. All he has to do is fire the one human on the packaging/delivering assembly line. “The Orphan Tulip” was a botched delivery, years ago, a teenager who never got to her family and now spends her time trying to fit in, invent ways of flying (like storks). But she (veteran voice actress Katie Crown) is a klutz, and like Big Bosses everywhere, Boss doesn’t have the guts to cut her loose himself.

But “The Orphan Tulip” (“Just ‘Tulip’s fine. ‘Orphan’ hurts my heart. A little bit.”) makes one last mistake. She processes a letter to “The Stork” from a little boy whose realtor-parents are too busy to play with him, so he wants a baby brother “with Ninja skills!” The Babyworks are cranked up, a baby pops out and Junior has a BIG problem to cover up and a baby to deliver.

With Tulip’s help.

“Storks” teeters along as a dizzy “quest” comedy after that, with the story cutting back and forth between Junior and Tulip’s travel travails and the home life of The Gardners (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell), where the parents humor little Nate (Anton Starkman) and his belief that they need to prep for an answer to his letter to The Stork.

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Junior and Tulip? They crash land in the frozen north and are chased by wolves. And those scenes are some of the most inspired moments of animated comedy to come along in years.

The two top dogs (Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) bicker over who gets to eat the baby, but succumb, as dogs do, to the gurgles and giggles. Awwww.

They give chase when the impromptu “family” of Junior, Tulip and the babe get away. Wolf teamwork is embodied by the pack gathering to form whatever shape they need to continue the pursuit. The command and response is straight out of “300.”

“WOLVES! Make a bridge!”

“How-WUUUH!”

The film peaks with their scenes and tends to bog down a bit after that. But I laughed out loud at all of Nate’s guilt-trip-the-parents zingers, efforts to get them to take out their earpieces and pay attention to him.

“You’ll blink, and I’ll be in college….Dad, you’ll be my idol for like, two more years…I’m not a jerk teen yet. Fleeting moments! Precious memories!”

And Stoller and Samberg’s comfort zone — more PG-13 — pops up.

“Is your seat wet?”

“Yeah. That’s my urine. I peed myself.”

It’s not as start-to-finish funny as Warner Animation’s “Lego Movie”, and that also goes for the quirky Lego cartoon short — basically the chicken-botched filming of the opening credits to a martial arts movie.

But there’s wit, warmth and invention here, enough to make you hopeful for a Warner Animation future.

Because, those wolves? Tex Avery and Chuck Jones and the other Looney Tunes would have been happy to call them their own.

 

stars2

MPAA Rating: PG for mild action and some thematic elements

Cast: The voices of Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo
Credits: Directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, script by Nicholas Stoller. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:29

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