Think about what an awful assignment it would be to write a screenplay based on a video game — and not one of the complex games full of characters and stories, either, but a smartphone game like Angry Birds, where you just have to knock stuff over. The game has provided what must be the story’s climax; it’s up to you, the hapless writer, to come up with a plot that gets us to that point.
The hapless writer of “The Angry Birds Movie” is Jon Vitti, a veteran of “The Simpsons” (including the movie) and other respectable productions, as well as the first two “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies. A job’s a job, and I’m sure he was well paid for it, but I pity Vitti for having to tackle such a doomed, creatively bankrupt project. I picture him pinching the bridge of his nose as he takes clueless notes from the Finnish game developers who also produced the movie, biting his tongue and counting his money as he’s obligated to turn an assortment of random noise into a story.
What he came up with is total garbage, a complete failure of a movie, devoid of merit as art or entertainment. Directed by two experienced animators taking their first turn at the helm (Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly), “The Angry Birds Movie” is pointless, crass, and derivative. The story has no message, lesson, theme, or moral; the protagonist learns nothing and changes nothing about himself. He’s better liked by his neighbors at the end than he was at the beginning, but only because he did something useful for them. It’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Syndrome, played out with maximum artistic indifference.
(By the way, if the very idea of an Angry Birds movie feels about four years too late, know that it also has a joke about gluten.)
The setting is Bird Island, home to a variety of avian species, none of which can fly. Our “hero,” Red (Jason Sudeikis), is an irresponsible snark machine who behaves like an undisciplined child. After a particularly violent outburst, he’s sentenced to an anger management course, where fellow students Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride) insist on becoming his friends. Chuck is sleek, yellow, and hyper (and also not angry, but whatever), while Bomb is black and bomb-shaped and literally explodes when he gets upset. (Asked to demonstrate, he demurs, explaining, “I just went boom-boom before class.”)
Then Bird Island is visited by a ship containing green pigs, who have come from Pig Island. The birds didn’t know anyone other than themselves existed in the world, and they’re excited and curious to meet the visitors. Except Red, that is. He’s suspicious of them — rightly, as it turns out, because the pigs (led by Bill Hader) plan to steal the birds’ eggs. In the meantime, the pigs ingratiate themselves with the birds by showing them such clever contraptions as the trampoline and the slingshot.
For help, Red, Chuck, and Bomb search for Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), a folkloric protector of Bird Island who can actually fly. Some birds think Mighty Eagle is mythical, but he isn’t, and it’s not clear why anyone thought he was. Our heroes meet him at the top of a mountain when he emerges from a cave to take a whizz in the pristine lake they’ve been swimming in. The film shows this in astonishing detail, with a shot from behind Mighty Eagle, looking between his legs at a thick, ropey stream of yellow urine cascading into the lake from his … well, it should be a cloaca, but I think the movie thinks he has a penis. Anyway, children’s cartoons have for years refused to depict the act of urination in such vivid detail, but “The Angry Birds Movie” doesn’t play by the rules. You and your kids may also enjoy hearing Red say, “Pluck my life!” when misfortune befalls him, or the way he refers to his crotch area as his “giblets.” (It’s possible none of the people involved have ever seen a real bird before.)
You’d expect a movie like this to be full of celebrity and brand names that have been cleverly altered to fit a bird-centric universe, but most of what we see in that department is pretty uninspired. There’s very little “world building” in general, and what there is doesn’t make much sense. And why should it? The only goal, narratively speaking, is to get to a point where birds are slingshotting each other at pigs’ houses. People playing the game don’t care what led up to that, or who the individual birds are, or what their personalities are like, or how they interact with each other. The filmmakers foolishly (or cynically) think moviegoers won’t care either, that we’re OK with paying 3D prices to watch a tacky, unimaginative, 90-minute adaptation of a smartphone app that offers nothing the app doesn’t already have. I hope they’re wrong.
D- (1 hr., 37 min.; )