'Smurfs' is smurfin' forgettable



Article Published: Aug. 4, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Smurfs' is smurfin' forgettable


frank@mountaintimes.com

Profanity is a mystery. Is it the word or the meaning that offends?

People lean toward the former, avoiding a certain combination of letters and sounds and adopting others to express the exact same meaning - only sugar-coated.

Well, slap my smurf and call me Sally.

"The Smurfs," the latest case of transplanting '80s nostalgia to the modern big screen, 3-D and all, plays this card to no end, substituting the word, "smurf," for everything under the smurf, including phrases that would horrify most parents if their kids uttered them.

And "The Smurfs" is targeted solely at kids, who probably never saw the celebrated 1981 cartoon, while offering very little for their parents, who most likely did.

There's a brief sense of nostalgia, but, by and large, "The Smurfs" is manufactured kiddie fare, right down to computer-generated characters that rap and dance.

The story, a blend of live action and computer animation, opens in the magical land of the Smurfs, an amiable bunch of little blue forest creatures who live in mushroom houses and sing all the doo-dah day. They're led by the wise and fatherly Papa Smurf (veteran comedian Jonathan Winters), and each has a name that reflects its personality (or gender, in one particular case) - Brainy (Fred Armisen, TV's "Saturday Night Live"), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin, "Charlie Bartlett"), Gutsy (Alan Cumming, "GoldenEye") and Smurfette (pop singer Katy Perry).

In fact, the voice cast is pretty extensive, with names like B.J. Novak (TV's "The Office"), Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens and chef Wolfgang Puck making brief appearances.

All the while, the Smurfs are consistently - and unsuccessfully - pursued by the villainous oaf of a wizard, Gargamel (Hank Azaria, TV's "The Simpsons"), and his nefarious, slightly more intelligent cat, Azrael (voiced by Frank Welker, "The Informant!").

When Gargamel chases a group of Smurfs into a magical portal, all are transported to modern day New York City, where they encounter expecting father and marketing executive Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle").

Patrick and wife Grace (Jayma Mays, TV's "Glee") reluctantly take the Smurfs under their collective wing, as the little blue refugees attempt to find a way home.

Meanwhile, Gargamel and Azrael are in clumsy pursuit, finding themselves in a series of fish-out-of-water situations, as the Smurfs turn Patrick's life upside-down with their incessant singing and substitution of "smurf" for practically every smurfin' word.

Can the Smurfs make it back safely? Can Gargamel be thwarted? Can Patrick learn a contrived lesson that'll probably fly over kids' heads about the merits and responsibility of fatherhood? Will the Smurfs rap and dance?

I'll offer no spoilers, but find out only if you must.

The animation is fair, as far as mixing live action with computer animation goes, but many times the live actors' pantomimes don't match with the Smurfs' movements or post-production placement.

And sadly enough, the Smurfs just aren't funny, with most of their gags limited to pratfalls, fart jokes and general smurfing around. On the other hand, Azaria, one of TV's and cinema's best voice actors, delivers an amusingly over-the-top performance as Gargamel, stealing most of the movie's few-and-far-between laughs.

Directed by Raja Gosnell ("Beverly Hills Chihuahua"), "Smurfs," by and large (or small, in this case) is forgettable. The Neil Patrick Harris subplot, set in the cruel world of cosmetic marketing, will surely be lost on its younger viewers, while the Smurfs' tiresome antics will leave most adults audibly sighing.

As its groan-inducing trailer said, "Smurf happens." Let's hope it doesn't happen again.

"The Smurfs," rated PG for some mild rude humor and action, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 16 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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