The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

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“The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” can be summed up in one word: uneven.

Weighing the negatives against the positives, it’s almost an even balance, though a few significant positives tip the scale, slightly, in favor of “good movie” instead of “bad movie.”

The fast-moving story in this highly self-referential, winking film (an attitude similar to the TV series on which it is based) has cartoon stars Rocky (voice of June Foray) and Bullwinkle (voice of Keith Scott) living in oblivion ever since the 1964 cancellation of their TV show.

Their old foes, Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro), Natasha (Rene Russo) and Boris (Jason Alexander), have escaped from cartoon-land into real life — well, Hollywood, anyway, where they’ve become three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood people with a plan to take over the world.

How? Fearless Leader is launching RBTV (Really Bad Television), a network that will broadcast shows so awful they turn America into mindless zombies, at which point they will do his bidding and vote for him for president.

So Rocky and Bullwinkle are summoned by inept FBI agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo), who pulls them from cartoon-land into reality. (They remain cartoon characters, though, resulting in a lot of very good animation/live-action scenes.) Most of the rest of the film is the trio, often split up by Sympathy being arrested or Bullwinkle flying off in a crop-duster, making their way to New York to stop Fearless Leader’s big “now that you’re all zombies, vote for me” speech.

Piper Perabo is absolutely dreadful as the FBI Agent Sympathy. Poor gal, most of her scenes were filmed with her talking to no one, the animated characters added in post-production, and she simply isn’t up to the task. Even opposite real people, she’s a bad actress, plain and simple.

De Niro, Alexander and Russo are all a treat as the trio of villains, admirably imitating the famous bad guys both in voice and appearance. They are not terribly funny, per se, but they are certainly enjoyable.

Minor details make the film fun. Whoopi Goldberg cameos as a judge named Judge Cameo, one of many amusing names. There’s also an inspired bit in which Rocky, Bullwinkle and Sympathy get arrested and appear on a “Cops”-style TV show — complete with the cartoon characters faces being blurred out, right in front of everyone. There is also much humor at the expense of the TV and film industries.

The feckless narrator (Keith Scott again) often pre-empts our complaints by pointing out that yes, a particular joke was very bad. (“Even their wordplay had become hackneyed and cheap,” he says in description of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s post-cancellation lethargy.) When Fearless Leader says he wants Rocky and Bullwinkle killed, he says, “Up to now, there’s never been a way to kill a cartoon character.” When someone says, “What about that ‘Roger Rabbit’ movie?,” he barks, “This is different!”

The problem is, merely acknowledging, even making fun of, your faults doesn’t make them OK. There are plenty of really bad jokes that the narrator doesn’t apologize for, leading us to assume that the writers thought they were good.

There’s lots of missed potential, too, with Fearless Leader’s “Really Bad Television” plan. The idea of creating the worst show ever is a delicious one, leading to so many satiric possibilities. The one example they use of RBTV’s programming is funny — “Three Funny, Wacky Spies and Their Horse, Who Will Also Be a Spy” — but a film with this much creativity behind it should have been able to come up with a few more examples, too, rather than just continuing to repeat that one.

It’s fun to see Rocky and Bullwinkle again, and their personalities here are exactly as we remember them — they have not been modernized or tweaked, thankfully. The film’s breezy pace and general merriment make it good, but not nearly as good as it should have been.

B (; PG, the mildest of profanity, cartoon violence.)

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