Saturday, July 2, 2011

Reel To Reel: Cars 2

We're running a little hot tonight.

Going Rate: Worth full price (3D not necessary)
Starring: Voices Of: Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Eddie Izzard, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro
Rated: G (but may be too intense for younger children)
Red Flags: Cartoon action gunshots, some mild toilet humor

The original Cars took the idea of an alternate motor-personified universe and made it fun and nostalgic. The sequel expands on that idea and runs around the world with it, producing a film that's visually exciting even if it's not always heartwarming. Cars 2 is a tribute to James Bond's Aston Martin, a salute to imports, and a loving tweak of two notorious clunkers, both made by the now-defunct American Motors Corporation: the dreaded Pacer and Gremlin. I think I also spotted a Pinto in there somewhere.

Our hero from the first film, Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is back home in Radiator Springs, Arizona (loosely related to Peach Springs, Arizona, somewhere north of I-40 near Kingman, in case you forgot). He's resting his wheels after a winning streak on the racetrack, only to face a new racing challenge: Sir Miles Axelrod (Izzard) has come up with a clean, green fuel, and he wants to show it off in a series of international races. When Italian formula-one Francesco Bernoulli (Turturro) taunts McQueen for sitting the series out, tow-truck pal Mater (Larry) jumps to McQueen's defense, and the Piston Cup champ decides to put his R&R on hold.

As McQueen and Mater head off to start the series, skullduggery -- or, motorduggery -- is afoot. British spy car agent Finn McMissile (Caine) picks up on a secret weapon in development by a gang of thug clunkers headed up by Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann). McMissile, who has enough gadgets and toys to make Bond's ride jealous, hooks up with fellow operative Holly Shiftwell (Mortimer) in Japan to receive a secret device from an American agent. The operation goes sideways, and the agent ends up slipping the device onto the undercarriage of Mater. That sets off an espionage thriller suitable for Spy Kids audiences but nuanced enough for adults to enjoy -- the Pixar touch.

It's Mater who has to carry this film as he takes his bumbling stick-shifter-from-the-sticks act on the road as a involuntary secret agent. This could get very old, very fast, if it wasn't for the chemistry among Mater, McMissile and Shiftwell. The film also takes us to car-populated Japan, Italy and England, which are full of colorful riffs on familiar people and places. You have to admire director John Lassiter's love of automobiles; he finds personalities in oodles of makes and models and matches them to the characters flawlessly. Even the Pope and the Queen of England get customized rides in Lassiter's universe.

The original Cars was a parable about friendship. So is this one, but not as heavily. It mainly just wants to race and have fun, and what's wrong with that? Not Pixar enough? I think that's the main problem people will have with this film. Let us not forget, though, that Pixar remains Hollywood's most consistent hit factory. They have yet to release a bona-fide clunker. That's more than I can say for the auto industry.

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