Review: 'Ice Age: Collision Course' Starring Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, And Denis Leary

It seems clear by now that Blue Sky is going to keep making Ice Age movies until an asteroid crashes into the Earth and wipes out all life on the planet.  Which, conveniently, is the setup for the latest installment, Collision Course.  Unfortunately -- and I dearly hope this will not come as a spoiler -- they manage to avert that horrible fate by the movie's end, and so I'm sure we've got another one coming in three or four more years.

Every time one of these series gets a new movie, there are always new characters.  Usually the series starts going direct-to-video by the time the accreted cast becomes this big, but since we're still getting these in theaters with the name-brand voice talent there's a lot to keep track of.

Easily the best character is Scrat, a mute "saber-toothed squirrel" with yip and yelps provided by Ice Age director Chris Wedge, who kicks things off as usual by chasing his acorn through an opening sequence that would make for a decent enough short.  In fact it did, before The Peanuts Movie.  It's some basic slapstick that apes Chuck Jones' style but without his discipline, and the movie periodically returns to Scrat's progressively less interesting antics.  All that really matters is that he knocks an asteroid towards Earth.

Among the main cast, let's start with the elephant in the movie, or in this case the mammoth.  Manny (Ray Romano) is basically the same character Romano played on Everybody Loves Raymond: the bumbling husband who disappoints his wife, Ellie (Queen Latifah), by, say, forgetting their anniversary.  He tries to cover by playing off the early meteor flashes as fireworks he'd somehow arranged for her, but that story comes crashing down when the meteors, well, come crashing down around them.

It's about now that Buck (Simon Pegg) shows up.  Remember Buck? of course you don't.  A supporting weasel from Dawn of the Dinosaurs with a loose grip on reality, he brings a prophecy that every so often an asteroid hits the same place, at the base of a volcano.  The one on its way is probably headed to the same place, so maybe if they get there in time they can find a way to divert it.  He also brings his pursuers: a flock of birdlike dromaeosaurs (Nick Offerman, Stephanie Beatriz, and Max Greenfield).  They think that if the asteroid hits they can soar above the destruction until things settle down, and thus reestablish dinosaur supremacy.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface of recurring characters and their subplots.  Manny and Ellie's daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer) is about to marry Julian (Adam DeVine), and they're planning to move away.  Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), on the other hand, despairs of ever finding a girlfriend.  He'll get one by the end rather than learn to be happy with himself, because we have to be sure to teach kids early that their lives are completely worthless without a romantic partner.  And lest they think that childless couples are okay, the saber-toothed tigers Diego and Shira (Denis Leary and Jennifer Lopez) worry about whether they're cut out to be parents.

I don't really mean to suggest that the screenwriters sat down and consciously decided that they were going to work in messages about the importance of romantic partnerships and child-bearing.  To the contrary, I don't think they thought about their signals much at all, and that's exactly the problem.  Kids build their entire worlds around the stories we tell them, so we must take care to be that much more careful with them, not less.

The overwhelming sense of "who cares; it's just for kids" comes off of Ice Age: Collision Course like cold wind off a glacier.  Don't bother spending time and money on telling any story well.  Just put in one that gets us from A to B as long as you don't think about it, and toss in a few more that reinforce established character brands.  Kids love brands.  Don't bother trying to be actually funny; just throw in body parts and functions.  Farts, butts, and nipples are all guaranteed kid laughs.  Oh, and pop culture references that make little sense in-context -- say, yoga, hashtags, opera, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson -- are great filler too.  With all these things whizzing about nobody will be able to pay attention to the fact the main plot only barely hangs together, or to do more than passively absorb the careless messaging of the side-plots.

It's a Mc-movie, designed more for superficial appeal and mass-production than for any long-term nutritive value.  It maybe fine once in a while, but you probably don't want to encourage a taste for it.

Rating: 2 out of 5