7/31/2013

Review: 'The Smurfs 2', Starring Katy Perry and Neil Patrick Harris


There are probably more than a few parents out there bemoaning the very existence of The Smurfs 2, and it's hard to blame them. The first film inexplicably took home more than $560M, more than satisfying the suits at Sony who got rolling on not just a sequel, but a complete trilogy featuring the little blue humanoid thingies with a desperate need for a wardrobe make-over. The film wasn't terrible, mostly it was inoffensive and a sufficient way to distract the kiddies for a while, but the sequel is something else entirely. It's essentially the same story with the same message and the same cast....and it's the same old jokes, too, only now they're being told in Paris. You'll be shocked to learn that doesn't actually make the movie funnier, just really smurfin' tiresome.

Directed by the returning Raja Gosnell, who has also inflicted such terrors on us as Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Big Momma's House, The Smurfs 2 doesn't even pretend to hold any value to those over the age of five. Yet at the same time, the ridiculously simple plot is far too messy for a kid to ever really understand, and definitely lack the whimsy of Peyo's original comic book adventures. Because the Smurfs are basically a bunch of happy blue male foot soldiers, their biggest tales always focus on Smurfette (Katy Perry), who at least has a definable origin to play around with. A creation of the Smurfs' magical nemesis, Gargamel (Hank Azaria, looking as contractually bound as ever), Smurfette has never really felt at home amongst the blue all-boys' club. A poorly planned surprise birthday party alienates her further, and soon she's whisked away by Vexy (Christina Ricci), another Gargamel creation known as a "Naughty" who is...well...naughtier than your average Smurf, apparently. Whisked away where? To Paris, where Gargamel has now become a huge star thanks to using the remaining Smurf "essence" to power his magical feats. He wants Smurfette to give up the formula Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) used to transform her into a real Smurf, so he can have an infinite supply of this rather disgusting-sounding essence.

Rounding up some of the Smurf junior-leaguers (how lame is it to be a Bush League Smurf?) like Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), Grouchy (George Lopez), and Vanity (John Oliver), Papa Smurf does the only thing he knows how, which is teleport to New York where they can again disrupt the lives of human folk Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris), Grace (Jayma Mays), and their son, affectionately named Blue. Along the way they also pick up Patrick's stepdad played by Brendan Gleeson, who has the misfortune of spending most of the film transformed into a duck. But if that isn't humiliating enough, he's a duck freedom fighter who saves other feathered fowl from the dinner table. Martin Luther Wing jokes abound.

Credited with a whopping five writers, none of whom add anything to this shockingly laugh and drama-free film, the entire point seems to be to pimp as many Sony products as possible, blast as much lame pop music as one's ears can safely take, and drop an incredible amount of cringe-worthy Smurf puns. The Smurfs' singular personalities were a treat back on the Saturday morning cartoon block when their stories were rarely more than 12 minutes long, but it doesn't work in a 104 minute (!!!) film where their every line becomes painfully predictable.

Even though the CGI doesn't always jibe harmoniously with the live-action performances, the Smurfs themselves are amazingly detailed and distinctive, even when in large groups it's easy to differentiate who is who and what they are all about. Unfortunately everything else surrounding them is bland and underdeveloped, including Paris which has never been underutilized in such an egregious manner. There's a lousy attempt to instill a modicum of "culture" by having the famous Roue de Paris rumble through the city streets, but otherwise they might as well have kept it stateside.

Patrick and Papa Smurf continue to wrestle with their own insecurities as fathers, and Smurfette faces an identity crisis as she grows closer to Vexy and Hackus (JB Smoove), the latter being a Naughty who appears to have gone completely unhinged. The more serious patriarchal messages are too simple for adults, and the "nature vs. nurture" theme affecting Smurfette won't really resonate with the kiddies, either. There's a lot of talent here that goes completely to waste. Neil Patrick Harris seems disinterested, perhaps because his character has suddenly become a whining child. Gleeson never gets a chance to do anything of note, and even the usually reliable Azaria is upstaged by Gargamel's cat, Azrael.

Other than the hilarious Narrator Smurf and the appearance of Passive Aggressive Smurf, both deserving of their own spinoff team-up film, there's little going on in The Smurfs 2 that resembles anything other than a total Smurf embarrassment.