Rated PG - Running Time: 1:30 - Released 6/30/00

As I watch The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, I get the sense that this is a good idea but a bad execution. There are few old cartoon shows more clever than the ol' moose and squirrel, but somehow the trappings of the three-dimensional world seem to smother their subtle wit. Although there are many funny lines and no shortage of the legendary R&B puns, the humor seems a bit labored. This is only the sophomore effort from director Des McAnuff (after 1998's Cousin Bette), and although he faithfully incorporates all of Jay Ward's famous characters from the 30+year-old TV program, it's only the third outing for screenwriter Ken Lonergan. The inexperience shows. But an abundance of cameos by various comic celebrities provides an amusing diversion, and the presence of 81-year-old cartoon voice veteran June Foray as Rocky adds an astounding sense of authenticity. Foray, who originated the role of Rocky the Squirrel in 1959, also played such famous characters as Granny from the Sylvester & Tweety cartoons, and "Witch Hazel" opposite Bugs Bunny. Incidentally, Bullwinkle is played here by Keith Scott, taking over for the late Bill Scott, the original moose. The younger Scott's characterization is virtually indistinguishable from that of his predecessor.

Desperate to find a script that's not "too intelligent," producer Minnie Mogul (Janeane Garofalo) signs the evil cartoon bad guy Fearless Leader with his idea for a series of Russian spy shows under the umbrella of the Really Bad Television network. But as she reaches into the TV to take the contract from Fealess Leader's hand, he is pulled through, suddenly becoming a live-action person (Robert DeNiro). Also humanized are his two accomplices, Boris Badenov (Jason Alexander) and Natasha Fatale (Rene Russo). Little does Minnie know, their plan is to "zombify" the entire U.S. population with their terrible shows and take over the country. When the FBI learns of this sinister plot, agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo, Whiteboys) is assigned to find Rocky and Bullwinkle and enlist their aid in stopping Fearless Leader, but Boris and Natasha are soon on the case, following the moose, the squirrel, and the FBI agent across the country and attempting to eliminate them with cartoonishly disasterous results.

It is quite humorous to see Robert DeNiro doing such a ridiculous character, especially when he goes into the "are you talking to me?" routine. Jason Alexander, on the other hand, seems uncomfortable with the role of Boris, making him little more than a Russian version of George Costanza from Seinfeld. Rene Russo is wasted, barely ever speaking despite her amazing interpretation of Natasha's throaty Russian accent (which, by the way, was first performed by June Foray). But what seems especially ponderous is the inclusion of Perabo as Karen Sympathy, a girl-next-door type who is trying to overcome her inner child. Her romance with a Nordic prison guard is nothing more than filler, and her straight-man interaction with Rocky and Bullwinkle tiresomely underscores the lack of need for her presence.

Faults aside, Rocky & Bullwinkle is worth a look just to enjoy the smart patter between the two title characters. Lonergan's script, to its credit, incorporates much self-deprecating humor and references to "real life," with mentions of things like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Internet. Also, look for cameo appearances by Jonathan Winters, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and John Goodman, among others. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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