Opening this weekend:
Kung Fu Panda 3—A couple of weeks ago I was complaining that Norm of the North, like many animated kid flicks, was ruined by obligatory formula elements—the misfit hero, the contrived villain, the overcomplicated plot. But this third Kung Fu Panda flick demonstrates that all of this can work when it’s done right.
As before, it’s set in a medieval China inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. This time title character Po (voiced by Jack Black) is stalked by some sort of monstrous bull from the spirit world who wants to capture his “Chi.” Meanwhile Po is also reunited with his biological father—his adoptive father is a goose, you’ll recall—and travels with him to a Shangri-La-like all-panda domain. Ultimately he must train his newfound family to defend their home.
This pop-Taoist plot is unnecessarily elaborate, but the ingenuity and speed and panache of the gags buoy the movie. So does the acting—the regulars are back, along with fine additions Bryan Cranston as the Dad panda, and J.K. Simmons, dripping menace as the villain.
By the way, if you like “Kung Fu Fighting,” you’ll get a major dose of it here. Could Carl Douglas have imagined, back in 1974, that he’d written an enduring anthem?
Playing this week at FilmBar Phoenix:
Lazer Team—Decades ago, an alien race called the Antareans secretly contacted Earth with the bad news that other aliens, called the Worg, were on their way to destroy us. Fortunately, it would take many years for them to arrive, during which time we could train a “Champion of Earth” to take the Worg on in single combat, wearing a special suit the Antareans would send us. Not so fortunately, the arriving suit crashes in rural Texas, and its weapons—inspired by the mythological weapons of Perseus—are instead commandeered by four small-town nitwits, who become the misspelled superhero team of the title.
Laborious as this set-up may sound, once this sci-fi comedy gets going it’s really pretty funny. Heavily financed by Indiegogo, this first feature from online video production company Rooster Teeth was directed by Matt Hullum from a script he wrote with star Burnie Burns and others. It starts off a little frenetic and overdirected, but once Hullm gets his characters in place with their superpowers—the sad-sack local sheriff has a force shield, the has-been football star has running shoes, the dense current jock has an arm cannon, and the town simpleton has a helmet that increases his intelligence (giving him an English accent)—the movie’s off and running.
The cast handles the snarky, facetious dialogue well, and the slapstick action is freewheeling and inventive. The movie seems intended as a sly homage to ‘80s-style youth sci-fi like The Last Starfighter or D.A.R.Y.L. or Solarbabies. Lazer Team captures some of the exuberance that gave those mostly dopey films their charm, but it has a contemporary dopey charm that’s all its own.