April 30, 2010 / 12:37 AM / 8 years ago

"Vengeance" neither sweet or funny in eco-comedy

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It might be true that no animals were physically harmed in the making of this ultra-broad comedy, but what about their pride? Combining well-trained critters, CGI and human actors who should have known better, “Furry Vengeance” is a collection of feeble jokes in the service of green themes. Sustainability never looked so stupid.

While their parents’ minds wander, young kids will enjoy the slapstick, much of it involving pee and poop, in this tale of enterprising woodland creatures determined to save their home from developers.

Its associated social-action campaign notwithstanding, Participant Media — producer of such socially conscious documentaries and features as “The Visitor” and “An Inconvenient Truth” — in this case has opted for the very lowest common denominator. For the target audience, too young to have seen Brendan Fraser in a truly good movie, the shrill shenanigans onscreen will suffice when Summit releases the film Friday (April 30).

Serving also as an executive producer, Fraser steps away from action-adventure territory to play doofus dad Dan Sanders. He’s overseeing the development of oversize but ostensibly green homes in rural Oregon. His wife (Brooke Shields, playing the only grownup in the film) and teenage son (Matt Prokop) are not happy to be transplanted from Chicago. What Dan doesn’t yet know is that Phase 2 of the Rocky Springs project involves destroying the area’s remaining forest.

The animals, naturally, want no part of it. Led by a vigilant black-and-silver raccoon, they embark on a people-deterrent scheme. For starters, they set in motion a rustic Rube Goldberg device — the film’s only clever touch — that uses pine cones, logs and one serious boulder against the invading humans and their vehicles, even when they’re hybrids. The very vocal mammals and birds don’t converse (or have personalities) a la Babe, instead communicating by trills and chirps and, most crucial, triumphant chortles.

When he’s not going mano a mano with the raccoon, Dan must deal with an evil idiot boss (Ken Jeong, who has done the same shtick in other films like “Role Models” to far better effect) and his right-hand woman (Angela Kinsey, of “The Office”). Mainly he mugs, shrieks, runs around in silly outfits and visits a shrink (an ill-advised Wallace Shawn).

From defecating birds to squirt-happy skunks, screenwriters Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert (“Mr. Woodcock”) substitute crude gags for humor at every turn. Under the flat-footed direction of Roger Kumble (“College Road Trip”), the story is a jumble of Apple product placement and wan message-mongering, with a few anemic visual references to Harold Lloyd, “North by Northwest” and “Braveheart.”

Massachusetts locations provide the sylvan idyll, if not the grand Northwestern scale. Animal wrangling by the Wild Bunch’s Bobbi Colorado and Ken Beggs (critters and people were united in postproduction) is notable in an otherwise routine production package.

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