Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reel To Reel: Shrek The Third

Princess Fiona's expecting and the stretch marks are already showing.

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: Voices Of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Cleese, Justin Timberlake, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, Eric Idle
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Some flatulence gags and Ye Olde Cartoon Swordplay

At 93 minutes, the third adventure of America's Favorite Ogre runs lean and yet thin. The genius of the Shrek saga has been its bilateral appeal -- adults dig it even more than the kids for its sly cultural riffs and inside jokes. This time around, it lacks new ideas, and the filmmakers undercapitalize any existing freshness.

Shrek (Myers) is the Ogre who would be king, only he doesn't want the crown after a series of disasters filling in for his gravely sick father-frog-in-law King Harold (Cleese). His Majesty croaks, leading to a darkly comic funeral scene. The filmmakers mash-up Paul McCartney's "Live And Let Die" with the spirit of Fantasia's "Dance Of The Hours" sequence without the gators and hippos.

Now Shrek must find the next in line to the throne, a teen underachiever named Artie who needs classes in remedial royalty. The title character also has fatherhood on the horizon. But while the green one's away, the jilted Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is plotting a coup. Dejected with life as a bad dinner theater actor, he rounds up a Who's Who among Storybook Villains to help him take over the Kingdom of Far Far Away, kidnapping Princess Fiona (Diaz).

The movie is filled with promising starts that fizzle out. It lacks a clear sense of direction as it glues its gags together with Medieval epoxy. I wouldn't have minded so much had Shrek riffed more (where are the gags evoking Paris Hilton?) but it can barely do that. The Required Moral for Young Viewers -- learning to lead and having faith in oneself -- fails to shine through the sped-up storyline.

Box office returns from opening weekend indicate a fourth Shrek film could make it to screens. I say quit now before the gas runs out.

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