Movie Review: Even Mel Brooks and “Blazing Saddles,” can’t save “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank”

Turning the rude and shticky “Blazing Saddles” into a samurai Western cartoon starring cats and a hapless dog isn’t the dumbest idea anybody in Hollywood ever had.

Mel Brooks’ classic comedy is 50 years old, and while it was racy for its day, about the only thing about it that whispers “Oh, they could never do that now” is the way it goes straight at racism in ways that racists found and continue to find amusing.

But when the racist culture lampooned is Japanese and feline, well, that’s kind of cute. “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” isn’t all that funny, and bears the hallmarks of “We’re worried about this not playing, so let’s hire a LOT of ‘names’ for the cast,” an age-old band-aid for lesser animated comedies. It’s a decently-animated, dialogue-heavy comedy that manages a few laughs from the age-old sight gags of “Blazing Saddles” and a lot of groaners that pass for one-liners.

A scheming nobleman (Ricky Gervais) from a time when Hello Kitties owned Japan wants his palace to dazzle the shogun (Mel Brooks) enough to be named his successor. But there’s this village that clutters up the view. When bandits chase off the samurai in charge of protecting it, he decides to find an incompetent replacement that will run the rest of the villagers off, and makes this decision over the objections of his faithful samurai toady (George Takei).

A joke about the palace’s new bathroom sets the tone of the humor. It’s a giant lavatory.

“I call it The Super Bowl. Because it’s a SUPER bowl!”

I doubt Gervais will be quoting from this at the next Golden Globes.

As a hapless lap dog, Hank (Michael Cera) has been arrested and scheduled for execution…because he’s a dog who wants to become a samurai, but mostly because he’s a dog in a land that doesn’t tolerate the different — Helloooo xenophobic/monoethnic Japan — Hank is who Prince Ika Chu (Gervais) sends to tiny Takamucho.

There, he’s shunned, “Blazing Saddles” style, by the anti-canine locals. He takes up with a tipsy old samurai (Samuel L. Jackson) who reluctantly “trains” him. And he confronts and converts a gigantic tabby villain named Somo (Djimon Hounsou) who was named Mongo and played by retired footballer Alex Karras in “Blazing Saddles.”

And so it goes.

Unless you and your kids are tickled at the thought of Mel Brooks joking “There’s no business like shogun business,” unless you can tolerate anything with Michelle Yeoh in it, no matter how lame, unless you find “Guns don’t kill cats…cars and CURIOSITY kills cats” and “Maybe I should start out as a ‘mall samurai'” hilarious, “Paws of Fury” may not be the comedy for you.

Hank’s a dog. So’s the “Blazing Saddles” homage cartoon comedy about him.

Rating: PG for action, violence, rude and suggestive humor, some profanity

Cast: The voices of Michael Cera, Ricky Gervais, Michelle Yeoh, George Takei, Djimon Hounsou, Gabriel Iglesias, Kylie Kuioka, Mel Brooks and Samuel L. Jackson

Credits: Directed by Chris Bailey, Mark Koetsier and Rob Minkoff, scripted by Ed Stone, Nate Hopper and Mel Brooks. A Nickelodeon/Paramount release.

Running time: 1:37

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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