Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Angry Birds

2.5/4

Starring (voices): Jason Sudekis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Peter Dinklage, Keegan-Michael Key, Sean Penn

Rated PG for Rude Humor and Action

Hollywood loves "brand names."  Witness the popularity of the "Transformers" franchise.  Or Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Or the umpteenth installment of a horror franchise (take your pick).  They have a built-in audience, which means a big payload with little financial risk.  Although it's marketing at its most blatant and obvious, it doesn't automatically mean that it's a bad movie.  Take the "Pirates of the Carribean" franchise for example (the fourth one doesn't count).  It's based on a theme park ride (an overrated one), but the movies were a lot of fun.  Like everything, it's all in the effort.

"Angry Birds," based on the incredibly addicting mobile app, is neither really good nor epically awful.  It's undoing is that it proves unable to sustain itself for 90 minutes.  For the first 30 minutes, I was laughing loud and frequently.  The next thirty, I missed the laughs, but was curious about the plot.  For the final act, I recognized that it had completely run out of gas.

Red (Sudekis) is angry.  Unlike everyone else in an island utopia of flightless birds, Red hates just about everyone and everything.  This is probably because, for him, life is a series of insults to his dignity.  As a kid, he was made fun of for his large eyebrows.  As an adult, he's hated so much that when he moves his house by the beach and away from everyone, no one cares.  After an incident when his anger gets the best of him, the judge (Key) sentences him to anger management therapy with Matilda (Rudolph).  There, he meets Chuck (Gad), an overly energetic speed freak, Bomb (McBride), who explodes when angry or surprised, and Terence (Penn), a behemoth who is pure intensity.  One day, a ship of pigs, led by Leonard (Hader), arrives on their perfect little island.  Everyone is bewitched by them, but Red is suspicious.  However, it isn't until the pigs make off with the island's eggs that Red is called into action.  Now, in order to save the unborn kids, Red must do what he does best: get angry!

There is something inherently funny in watching the put-upon get revenge on the impossibly perfect in a way that cuts to their personal perfection.  For example, at one point, Red is awakened to a tiny little bird kicking a soccer ball against his house.  Red in turn kicks said bird into the sea.  Or Matilda, who is so positive that it would make Mr. Rogers gag, being the constant victim of Red's cynicism.  The filmmakers understand the irony in these situations and some of the film's biggest laughs come from how they exploit it.

But the concept, even when fleshed out, is too limiting for a movie.  As a short, this would have been brilliant in a "Looney Tunes" meets "Happy Tree Friends" sort of way.  The concept for "Angry Birds" is pretty thin, and taking it in this direction would have been hilarious.  Unfortunately more is needed to spread it to feature film length.  This is further undermined when the filmmakers insert some drama into the story, which in addition to being obligatory, is half-baked.

"Angry Birds" is decent enough that if you do venture out to see it, you won't feel like you wasted your time and money.  It's just that it will undoubtedly play better on DVD or Netflix.

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