While the world’s desperate cries for more sequels to “The Santa Clause” go unanswered, Universal Pictures brings us the next best thing: the same basic concept, changed to the Easter Bunny, mixed with “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” and executed without distinction. This is “Hop,” a forgettable family comedy — live-action save for the animated talking animals — that will be tossed out in a few weeks with the plastic Easter-basket grass.
Since there isn’t nearly as much lore built up around the Easter Bunny as there is Santa Claus, “Hop” is free to invent some. (By which I mean “Hop” uses the Santa Claus mythology as a starting point and alters the details. They’ve got the Easter Bunny riding around on an “egg sleigh,” for crying out loud.) The current Easter Bunny, voiced by Hugh Laurie, is about to retire (or die? It is not clear), and has appointed his son to be his successor. This son, conveniently named E.B., is voiced by Russell Brand, and is carefree and irresponsible. He does not want to be the Easter Bunny. He wants to be a drummer for a rock band. To that end, he runs off to Los Angeles to seek his fortune.
Meanwhile, in L.A., a similar scenario is playing out between a human father and son. Fred O’Hare (James Marsden), an unemployed slacker, has been mooching off his parents (Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins) for far too long, lazily turning down job opportunities because he has no ambition, no skill, and no interest in doing anything. He runs into E.B., is initially terrified to have encountered a talking bunny, and then finds himself designated as guardian of the reckless rabbit.
Several subplots, side stories, and tangents soon emerge. E.B. wants to put his drumming skills to work at an audition for a David Hasselhoff-produced TV talent show (which means, yes, that Hasselhoff makes a cameo in the movie). Fred interviews for a job at a company that makes video games, where E.B. barges in on a recording session with the Blind Boys of Alabama, whose sightlessness explains why they don’t realize their impromptu drummer is a rabbit but not why this scene is in the movie to begin with. Fred tells E.B. not to talk in public or else people will freak out; E.B. talks in public and nobody notices or cares. Back at headquarters, E.B.’s dad sends a squad of bunny ninjas called the Pink Berets to retrieve his wayward son, while his chief of staff, a yellow baby chick named Carlos (Hank Azaria), plots a coup to install himself as the new Easter Bunny, which would be CRAZY, because he is not a bunny, he is a yellow baby chick.
By the way, it’s probably good that the current Easter Bunny is about to retire (or die?), as he doesn’t seem to grasp some of the fundamentals of the holiday he represents. He is mystified at not being beloved in China, evidently unaware that Easter is a Christian observance and the vast majority of Chinese are not Christian. He also tries to appeal to E.B.’s sense of duty by reminding him of the Easter Bunny’s “four thousand years of tradition” — which means they started delivering candy and eggs to commemorate the resurrection of Christ some two thousand years before the birth of Christ, which demonstrates remarkable foresight.
Anyway, like this review, the movie is rambling and unfocused and, for the most part, not very funny. It doesn’t define the “rules” of its fantasy world clearly, and therefore has trouble finding comedy in it. James Marsden, an under-appreciated comic talent, is enthusiastic and endearing; Russell Brand, meanwhile, does his Russell Brand thing, a thing that is fast wearing thin. Supporting cast like Chelsea Handler, Gary Cole, and Elizabeth Perkins are barely given a chance to do anything.
I was not surprised to realize, after the fact, that “Hop” was directed by Tim Hill, who also made “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” (Both films even have jokes about eating the central animal’s poop! Hooray!) And what do you know, two of the film’s screenwriters, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, also worked on “The Santa Clause 2”! The third writer, Brian Lynch, is responsible for the animated web series “Angry Naked Pat,” a single five-minute episode of which has more laughs than all of “Hop.” (Literally. I counted.)
Perhaps someday Easter will get the kind of classic family comedy that Christmas already has several of. “Hop,” affable and inoffensive though it may be, has very little wit or creativity. It’s disposable at best, vaguely dispiriting at worst. Better luck next time, Easter fans.
C (1 hr., 35 min.; )