Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brendan Fraser Rubs Our Nose In His Latest Hollywood Excrement Passing For Family Entertainment

Rated PG for some rude humor, mild language and brief smoking.
92 minutes
Summit Entertainment
* out of 5

I can’t help but pray that the recent spate of stars making bad movies doesn't imply a trend. Just last week local multiplexes were hosed with J.Lo’s return to film with her celluloid abortion (“The Back-Up Plan”), and now along comes Brendan Fraser (apparently on the Luke Wilson diet) for his turn to pop a squat on audiences’ chests.

The fact that it comes from the director of “Cruel Intentions” is totally beside the point. While you can’t exactly expect fine art from director Roger Kumble, his latest adventure into bad taste, “Furry Vengeance,” will probably have children howling in laughter, but will leave any self respecting grown up wishing they were sitting through anything starring Miley Cyrus instead.

While Brendan Fraser has been continuing his streak of diminishing returns (“Extraordinary Measures,” “Inkheart,” and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”) the real blame rests solely on director Kumble and screenwriters Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert. While Kumble gave us the atrocities of “Cruel Intentions 2,” “The Sweetest Thing,” “Just Friends,” and “College Road Trip,” it’s not a good sign when your writing team’s only previous credit is for “Mr. Woodcock.”

In the film, Dan Sanders (Fraser) has just relocated his family to the middle of the forest of Rocky Springs. His wife Tammy (Brooke Shields) is playing the supportive spouse and is trying to make the best of things, but their son Tyler (Matt Prokop) loathes being stranded in the woods with no friends and just wants to return home to Chicago. The family can't, however, as Dan has been hired for a one-year stint as a real estate developer for Neal Lyman (Ken Jeong) after the last man in charge of the development (an uncredited Rob Riggle) goes missing.

We get to see what happened to Riggle’s character in a wacky Rube Goldberg trap set up by the local wildlife. His car is slammed with a boulder and sent off a cliff when he pisses off the head honcho raccoon for throwing his PG rated, not-lit-until-after-thrown-out-the-window cigar into a pile of leaves. That’s right, the local wildlife are residing on a nature preserve and it’s being demolished day by day.

Later, Tyler is conveniently directed to a book of ancient folklore by his new girlfriend Amber (Skyler Samuels, whose character seems to be the only one who realizes how bad a film this is). The book explains everything to Dan, who learns that nature should be left alone and that Lyman’s plans to wipe out the forest in the name of luxury need to be stopped, conveniently after Dan learns that the animals are only trying to protect their own families.

Summit Entertainment and audiences alike have the “Twilight Saga’s” success to thank for the studio churning out such movies as this and last month’s “Remember Me.” Although you could blame Participant Media for financing these kinds of films; they have a reputation to uphold for bankrolling propaganda-type films disguised as mainstream entertainment for the lowest common denominator. This is a movie that’s so dumb, the characters and woodland creatures both think in comic strip cartoon bubbles; it assumes all animals understand English but speak their own language amongst themselves as if they’re some kind of displaced natives.

Kumble must at least be given credit for possibly saving the studios some production costs as there’s not one, but at least two two obvious scenes where previous footage is replayed with different sound looping. This isn’t a smart filmmaking strategy, this is sheer laziness, especially given how plainly obvious it all is. It’s like the movie is having its own déjà vu and you’re stuck watching it play out.

But if you’re of a mind to save a buck or two on something, maybe you should spend those savings elsewhere. Anyone who’s convinced that any of the animals featured in the group shots are in the same shot has never seen a special effect before. And what’s a vulture doing in the middle of the woods anyway? Not to mention a whole kettle flying in like a poop-bombing air squadron.

At one point Tammy says to Dan (while her eyes wrestle to keep her caterpillar eyebrows from scampering off) something about having “a string of bad luck.” One can’t help but wonder if it was Shields’ personal observation on their own career paths. Later in the film she also says to Dan, “How could things possibly get any worse?” If you were to take a gander at your watch at this moment you realize you still have another half hour of runtime left as Dan gets either hosed down by skunks or peed in his mouth by the lead raccoon. If you pay to see something of this ilk, you too deserve the same fate, dear viewers. You’ve been warned.

Article first published as Movie Review: Furry Vengeance on

Friday, April 23, 2010

Seeing Anything Else Is Better Than Dumpster Diving With J.Lo

Somehow rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some crude material and language.
106 minutes
CBS Films
* out of 5

Once in awhile an actor or actress has been off the scene long enough that they decide to try for a comeback. Sometimes it works (such as John Travolta with “Pulp Fiction”) and sometimes the result is so mind-boggling and atrocious you wish the filmmakers would have held their water and drowned their cinematic abortion such as the likes of director Alan Poul’s debut “film,” “The Back-up Plan.”

Jennifer Lopez just can’t find material suited to her to save her life… or career. However, the females attending the screening I was at howled with laughter for the entire slog of 106 banal minutes of true “torture porn” for sane people. She was great in her own debut film, “Selena,” and used rather appropriately in her turn as a U.S. Marshal in Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s “Out of Sight” squaring her off miraculously against George Clooney.

While Lopez had her turn to share participation in guilty pleasures with “Anaconda” and “The Cell,” whatever she was thinking by agreeing to star in this mess dreamed up by writer Kate Angelo whose only credits are in television, you can’t help but wish her luck. On second thought, this film is so bad I take that back.

All you need to know about what this film considers plot is that Zoe (Lopez) owns a pet store, Stan (Alex O’Loughlin, who sounds exactly like Matt Dillon) makes cheese from goats’ milk and they meet-cute immediately following Zoe’s artificial insemination. Everything that happens from that moment on is so by the numbers you wonder how anyone could have possibly been given an actual writing credit.

The opening credit sequence is completely animated featuring a generic white female character becoming increasingly baby hungry as she walks along the streets of Manhattan. The animated white female character makes you wonder just how late into production Lopez was cast as Zoe. While out to dinner with her only male coworker Clive (Eric Christian Olsen) she asks him to be her baby daddy, resulting in the scene demanding a spit take.

After Zoe is inseminated and she’s walking out of her doctor’s (Robert Klein) office she walks with her legs so cramped together one can’t help but wonder if the porn term “creampie” is part of her daily regime. During her battle of wits over the stolen taxi issue with Stan she uses the term “stupid head.” After sitting through this movie, if you laughed, you might as well call yourself one too.

Zoe feels lonely so she joins a single mothers support group. The screenwriter is apparently under the impression that only lesbian couples are allowed to be "single" mothers. This is the same support group where we get to see a three-year-old breast feeding. How do we know the child in question is three years old? It turns to the camera and tells us.

At Zoe’s pet store they have a reading of a book entitled “Cesar’s Way” by its author (real life dog whisperer Cesar Millan playing himself) who’s so similar to Raul from “UHF’s” “Raul’s Wild Kingdom” you can’t help but wait for him to lick a turtle and toss him onto the ceiling to see if it sticks or toss a poodle out the window to teach it how to fly.

While that never happens, some of the funnier parts come unsurprisingly from Zoe’s friend of 30 years, Mona (Michaela Watkins), as she half-heartedly works out at the gym with Zoe where you can find her either exerting herself lifting two-pound dumbbells, using her arms to do crunches on her sides, or drinking a cup of coffee while using the elliptical.

Among the cinematic “treats” we are privy to are things such as Zoe having a tug of war with her dog over her freshly spritzed pregnancy test which the dog of course swallows. This is all for the supposed hilarity of the dog regurgitating the result back sitting neatly atop the dog’s vomit in the middle of her front room.

When Zoe goes for a weekend visit to Stan’s family goat and cheese farm she not only spies a simmering pot of stew on the stove provoking her to dive in fist first but later, while the two are making out, her body is apparently so engorged with raging hormones that him simply squeezing her arms and kissing her neck sends Zoe into some kind of orgasmic seizure.

Stan comes across as a character so desperately in love with Zoe that he’s almost stalker-ish but truth be told, both of these characters are so desperate that they deserve each other. On a good note I suppose for Stan, at least he can jump into the relationship sans contraceptives.

During the makeout session at the cheese farm Zoe asks Stan if she is his cheese muse. While he halfheartedly agrees, I’d say that she’s more of a cheese muse for the screenwriter, whose idea of a great guffaw is to show vaginal blood on Zoe’s doctor’s gloved hand during an ultrasound. How that helps any film’s plight is beyond me and just because Zoe’s doctor overuses the word vagina, it does not make it funnier when the character repeats it over and over to freak out Stan.

In a very weird subplot, immediately following the ultrasound and the couple find out that Zoe’s having twins, where’s the first place Stan could possibly run to for solace? Why, a playground chock full of children, of course! Of which Stan is quickly mistaken for a child predator all on account of him walking with his hands in his pockets. Not to mention the fact that the accuser (Anthony Anderson, credited only as “Playground Dad…” yeah, that’s right) suddenly becomes his only friend in the remainder of the movie.

So many scenes feature someone either vomiting, urinating, or defecating they might as well have called the film “Bodily Functions: The Movie!” To add insult to injury it should be mentioned that this supposed entertainment is what I missed two new episodes of both “Glee” and “Lost” to endure. The filmmakers’ idea of hilarity is treating women having contractions as an exorcism victim and for some inexplicable reason they have Zoe’s pregnancy somehow make her forget how to walk in high heels, sending her down her apartment’s front steps and lunging into a cab.

Beware viewers, just when the casual observer thought Lopez’s butt couldn’t possibly get any bigger they went ahead and cast her in a pregnant role so now she has two butts, one just as big as the other. And also run for the hills when they finally get to that mentally graphic water birth scene, which makes the delivery in “Knocked Up” seem like a case of fine art; make sure you brought along your vomit bags. In the film’s single line of actually funny dialogue outside of Mona’s lines, Stan says, “I’ve been up all night watching Orca give birth.” Amen.

An accidental moment of funny happens when the director frames his shot where you can read something behind Stan that appears to say “eatgrass” which becomes more clear when the next shot is pulled back and you realize it really says “wheatgrass.” As the movie careens to a finale we have the pleasure to bear witness to a conga line falling prey to amniotic fluid pratt-falling after Zoe’s water breaks, which also leads us to the geriatric set questioning if it was one of them wetting themselves.

On a final note, dear director, never let your characters use the line “let’s not drag this out” when your movie is already plodding along with no end in sight. Here’s a movie that feels like it takes about nine months to troll through. With the whole production being a CBS Films production one can’t help but pray that this dies a quick theatrical death where it can find a home on daytime television and probably replayed on the Lifetime Network for the rest of eternity for an audience for whom this was tailor made.

An Unabashed Fascination Overcomes Lackluster Storytelling

Rated G
87 minutes
*** 1/2 out of 5

For having lived in Utah the entirety of my almost 30 years, it always surprises people who don’t know me very well to learn that one of my most favorite things on earth is the ocean. Sharks in particular are my favorite animal and “Jaws” always has been and always will be my all-time favorite movie (John Williams’ Oscar-winning theme is even my ring tone). So imagine my enthusiasm then when the trailer for Disneynature’s new documentary, “Oceans,” featured a scuba diver gliding peacefully alongside a great white approximately three times his size.

As a child, I could spout any and all kinds of information regarding these underwater killing machines but they have never been the cause of nightmares and they are my favorite attraction at SeaWorld. I have a best friend who is still shocked that I’ve never sought out to be a marine biologist. Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is something I look forward to every summer, so of course, any chance to see sharks projected up on the big screen, for better or worse, you can always count me in.

From the creators of the Oscar-nominated “Winged Migration” (Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud) comes a look at what lurks below the surface and within earth’s five oceans that doesn’t forget what lies along the beaches as well. As narrator Pierce Brosnan announces, “To really know the ocean, you have to live it.” Thus begins a peek at some of the most extraordinary creatures to grace the silver screen this side of CGI.

You could review the whole movie as a checklist of some of your favorite sequences but there are definitely a few that stand far above the rest. For starters, one of the first “action sequences” features a feeding frenzy of sorts as dolphins, birds, sharks, and whales (oh my) chase along and through schools of sardines, leaving fewer behind as the scene whizzes by.

A blanket octopus floats along just beneath the surface looking like a scarf lost at sea. Sea lions splash on the shore proving themselves akin to man’s best friend of the sea. Humpbacks sleep upside down almost the same way as a vampire bat in a cave. Great whites leap into the air trying to snag (successfully even) a tasty lunch. Orcas use highly developed hunting techniques to hunt down sea lions in the breaking surf.

Some of the scenes have a tendency to be on the extreme side of things and if what you were seeing wasn’t real you’d have no excuse for feeling like you should be questioning what you’re looking at. A mantis shrimp has just finished cleaning its home when a crab decides it wants to mosey along for a peek. Proving itself to be the kung fu master of the sea it gives the crab a beat down complete with true sound effects to make a foley artist blush with envy.

The cuttle fish uses a light show of sorts to show just how magical it can be only to lure in its prey for dinner. And if you think you’ve seen battles of epic proportions before you ain’t seen nothing yet. A crab battle scene erupts before your eyes complete with stampeding sides and escalates into a shot that can only be composed of what appears to be hundreds or thousands of crabs.

But the film isn’t just all about the majestic undersea kingdom. The ocean's bounty is obviously at risk and of course we humans come along to almost spoil the mood. Thankfully the preachy sections aren’t as skull-bashing as they could be and offer instead a unique perception of satellite footage revealing pollution seeping out into the waters. Also there’s a very creepy scene featuring a sea lion swimming in the murky polluted waters trying to figure out what a shopping cart is doing in his homeland.

At one point a fellow critic leaned over to me and said, “This movie needs some organization,” and while it mostly holds true, as a huge fan of these types of documentaries I would have to disagree as it's all brain candy for me. And at only 87 minutes including credits it all whizzes by breathtakingly. While admittedly it’s nowhere near as cohesive as last Earth Day’s Disneynature release, “Earth,” if you just want to sit back and enjoy the scenes of grandeur, you’re in for a huge treat. And while there may be a fart joke early in the film, even nature needs to let off some steam sometimes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Steve Carell and Tina Fey Rise Above Their Material To Make All Kinds Of Right

Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.
88 minutes
Twentieth Century Fox
**** out of 5

Some people could seriously get away with standing in front of a camera and reading names from the phone book and it would still be more entertaining than most of what passes as Hollywood entertainment these days. Two of those names just happen to be Steve Carell (NBC's “The Office”) and Tina Fey (NBC's “30 Rock”) and they now star together in “Date Night.”

These two are bona fide comedic juggernauts. Why no one has paired them up before is anyone’s guess. Thankfully, the stars have aligned and while it may not be the best comedy ever made, at least the two stars are able to keep it afloat. That’s not saying they don’t get a little help from some very funny friends.

Shawn Levy is far from known as a top notch director. With a resume consisting of “Big Fat Liar,” “Just Married,” the first of the “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Pink Panther” remakes, along with both “Night at the Museums,” we aren’t talking high brow art here. What he does do is bring home money for his parent studio, Twentieth Century Fox.

While Josh Klausner’s resume is far shorter than director Levy’s, it is attached to one film that’s brought home the bacon – “Shrek the Third” - and another that surely will – “Shrek Forever After.” With Fey and Carell in the leads, however, I’m not exactly sure how much of Klausner’s original dialogue was left intact. As I mentioned before, Fey and Carell can get away with saying the most ridiculous of lines and wring any ounce of funny you could possibly imagine.

Phil (Carell) and Claire (Fey) Foster lead an average, everyday life. Every morning their kids demand breakfast at 5:45 a.m. and it’s off to the races. Phil is a tax lawyer whose clients would rather spend their $600 tax refunds on a weekend getaway and Claire is a real estate agent who agrees with buyers that the price still might come down more instead of nailing the sale.

At the end of the day they’re both even too tired to enjoy their forced date nights out together. While they may have fun swapping made up stories about the couples at the other tables, they find themselves missing the sparks and romance that everyone but them seem to be enjoying. And as Claire puts it, she’s gonna “go home and fart into a pillow.” That is until they walk into the new Manhattan restaurant, Claw. They steal a table for two by posing as the no-show Tripplehorns. What they don’t know is that the real Tripplehorns are extortionists blackmailing crime boss Joe Maletto (an uncredited Ray Liotta).

Now the Fosters are up to their elbows in crooked cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson), a hilariously shirtless ex-Marine private detective (Mark Wahlberg) with his own computer system straight out of “Minority Report,” and the Fosters must find the “real” Tripplehorns who turn out to be low-rent crooks who go by the names Taste (James Franco) and Whippit (Mila Kunis.)

While featuring two of the funniest chase sequences by water and land, it could have seemed all as contrived as it really is if it weren’t for the breezy pacing and the obvious ad-libbing hilarity of the cast. If you don’t think a getaway chase involving a puttering boat or another featuring two cars stuck bumper-to-bumper are short of hilarious, then you’re watching this film starring a different cast.

And that’s what it all comes down to. Everyone knows how ridiculous everything is but plays it with the deadpan seriousness necessary to sell it. Having Fey and Carell make their characters instantly the two most lovable losers in love before you even buy your ticket. Hopefully the film will have the legs to at least make its money back as the pairing of these two leads begs for it to happen again.

On a final note, any couples who don’t see even a tiny sliver of themselves somewhere in the Fosters' relationship have honestly never been in one. But if you think Claire’s idea of sitting alone in an air conditioned hotel room with a diet Sprite sounds like a great escape, there are always worse things, like weird sex fantasies involving Cyndi Lauper.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Director Joon-ho Bong Shows Some Self One-Upmanship With “Mother”

Rated R for language, some sexual content, violence and drug use.
128 minutes
Magnolia Pictures
**** 1/2 out of 5

When one settles in for a Joon-ho Bong film, they probably never know what to expect. What they should definitely find is an extraordinarily entertaining two hours passing by. After bringing his name some stateside attention with “The Host” in 2006, he’s now brought his quirky brand of filmmaking joy to a different genre – the revenge thriller – with “Mother.”

As great as his sense of filmmaking is, and as sharp and intricately plotted as the film is, everything mostly comes together so well thanks to “Mother’s” star, Hye-ja Kim. There’s been talk about an American remake around the water coolers in Hollywood lately and it’s not surprising; there have also been talks about a remake of “The Host” as well.

While this would no doubt be a great vehicle to bring about an Oscar-worthy performance, why not leave well enough alone and just bring the deserved exposure to the original? Don’t try to fix what’s not broken. What Joon-ho Bong has created here is an exceptional drama layered with rich and dark thriller elements while enlightened by bursts of offbeat and hilarious moments of real humor. The opening sequence with Hye-ja Kim walking up to the camera alone in a field and beginning to dance springs instantly to mind.

Mother (Kim) lives a quiet life with her son, Yoon Do-joon (Bin Won). That is until Do-joon is struck by a car in the street and Do-joon follows the car with his best friend Jin-tae (Ku Jin) to a golf course because (as Jin-tae points out) that’s the only place a white Mercedes Benz could possibly be headed. After Jin-tae kicks off their rearview mirror and they proceed to gang up on the golfers, they all wind up at the local police station.

When one of the golfers calls Do-joon a “retard,” he erupts into a fit of violence and later we come to find out that Mother has always told him to defend himself whenever belittled. Back at home, Mother asks Do-joon why he hasn’t been taking his medicine and she force -feeds said meds while he’s urinating against a wall. Do-joon takes off for the evening to meet up with Jin-tae at a bar where Jin-tae never shows up. Heading home in a drunken stupor, Do-joon spies a short skirted high school girl walking alone and proceeds to follow her. After she ignores his advances Do-joon carries on home for the night where he shares a bed with Mother.

The next morning a girl is found murdered and all signs of evidence immediately point to Do-joon including a golf ball with his name written on it. Arrested by another family friend, Je-mun (Yoon Jae-Moon), Do-joon is thrown in prison and Mother is convinced of Do-joon’s innocence even reminding Je-mun that her son would never even hurt so much as a fly.

After Mother sneaks into Jin-tae’s home and finds a golf club with what she believes to be blood on it she takes it to the police but the blood is dismissed for lipstick and Jin-tae sneaks into Mother’s home and while seeking his own revenge, proceeds to offer Mother detective advice which leads her on a quest to seek out the truth behind clearing her son’s name.

A lot of movies feed their audience too much information and offer far too much exposition in the final third of their films or tries to pull a twist ending that doesn’t make any sense. While in some cases the exposition can bog down the plot or feel like it’s pandering to its audience the twists are usually forgiven if the film earns its keep. The less said about the twists and turns of “Mother” the better. But it has to be said that the performance given by Hye-ja Kim is one to be reckoned with.

Joon-ho Bong has completely earned his ending and it even makes sense. Just when you think you know the whole story, something else comes along and bops you upside the head. While some could be confused with the ending if they’re not paying attention, everything makes complete sense and could make a second viewing a most rewarding experience.

Joon-ho pulled the same one over with “The Host” and while most may think it’s just your average monster movie, the more you’ve seen it, the more you realize just how layered it really is. Joon-ho’s films are very layered and you don’t realize how great the dessert until you’ve tried them all and I can’t wait until I get to have another go at “Mother.”

Friday, April 2, 2010

Effects "Clash" With Converted 3-D Making A Losing Battle For All Titans

Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief sensuality.
118 minutes
Warner Brothers Pictures
*** 1/2 out of 5 for the film itself
** 1/2 out of 5 for the film in 3-D

Sometimes something can seem too good to be true. After witnessing the likes of “Monsters vs Aliens,” “Up,” the “Toy Story” double feature re-release, “Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” and to a tiny degree even “The Final Destination,” I was finally starting to fully give 3-D the benefit of the doubt. For the most part – some of “Alice in Wonderland” - with the 3-D being implemented from the film's greenlight, it was used to fully immerse the audience and not just a gimmick where objects are thrown at your face.

However, just when you think things are finally looking brighter for the future of 3-D technology and films, something is bound to rain on your parade. Warner Brothers' new epic, “Clash of the Titans,” was not made in 3-D. It was filmed just like any other film on the market then the studio heads saw how much money could be made from a 3-D feature and decided to convert the entire film into the third dimension.

While director Louis Leterrier has concocted a fine retelling of the story of gods versus mortal man, had it not been for the final showdown with Perseus (“Avatar’s” Sam Worthington) against the Kraken, the complete use of 3-D would have been a total bust. Recently James Cameron has spoken out about his fear of studios releasing inferior 3-D films leaving audiences with a bad taste in their mouth and some in the online community have started to fear that Cameron was headed for the CGI dark side a la George Lucas. Folks, Cameron is right. The 3-D conversion just doesn’t work. Every frame looks as fake as a William Castle flick. Sorry, but it’s true.

Once again we have the now age-old story of Perseus (Worthington) being found at sea in a floating coffin of sorts with his dead human mother. He is raised by a human mother and father but when another child is on the way, Perseus fears that his parents won’t love him as much as they used to as they are delivered a child of their own conception.

While out to sea, Perseus and family are headed for the shores of Argos and watch, to his families’ detriment, the people of Argos destroy their statue of Zeus (Liam Neeson) and declare war upon the gods. After an attack brought upon them by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) the Argos warriors are killed off along with Perseus’ entire family. Stranded on the isle of Argos he is brought before the King where the “Lost” smoke monster appears and kills a lot more people where Hades finds it “interesting” that Perseus is not among the dead.

Hades returns to Olympus to inform Zeus that his son is now amongst the mortals and they also discuss that the people’s revolt against the gods needs to be fixed and their attitudes adjusted or the gods will lose their powers. Hades gives Zeus an ultimatum to try to instill fear back into the mortals and if all else fails they should release the Kraken as a death blow so to speak. Meanwhile, Perseus sets out with his fellow warriors to defend the island against the gods and their impending doom by beheading Medusa (Natalia Vodianova) to use her stony gaze to defeat the Kraken and save the day.

For those who have a hard time with shaky cam we have that here as well. And for those who hate 3-D, it’s obviously being pushed by the studio to see it this way. Well, for anyone who doesn’t like either of those things, thankfully you have the 2-D version. I may have seen the film in 3-D but I can warrant that the standard version is the way to go. If you thought shaky cam was hard enough to follow normally, wait till you see it in 3-D.

The cast work is fine all around and no one delivers their dialogue badly enough to make you roll your eyes. After delivering some fine action work with the first two “Transporter” films, Jet Li’s “Unleashed,” and (whether they admit it’s a sequel or not) “The Incredible Hulk,” Leterrier again gives us some fine spectacle to behold. Where everything fails is with the studio's decision to add the 3-D.

Whether it’s gigantic desert scorpions, eyeball-sharing witches, flying Pegasuses, or even the Kraken waking from its dormant lair under the sea, nothing here really deserves the extra dimension. Save yourself some money, folks, and show Hollywood that you do care about the quality of your 3-D or else suffer the stroke of a new technology blunder before its time. Just when it started to work and we all thought it could move forward, one studio takes the evolution a few steps back.

I suppose in hindsight I did learn a few things; apparently the “Lost” island is Argos, the smoke monster is Hades, all human sacrifices are served up like an appetizer plate for “King Kong,” and “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” was the first remake of “Clash of the Titans” to be released this year.

Movie Review: “How to Train Your Dragon”

Buckle Up And Enjoy Your Flight In 3-D IMAX For Maximum Effect.

**** 1/2 out of 5
Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.
98 minutes
DreamWorks Animation

Article first published as Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon on Blogcritics.

DreamWorks could be said to be on a roll these days. While far from the powerhouse that is Pixar, a 3-for-3 streak isn’t too bad. While Pixar has scored an amazing 10-for-10 with no signs of slowing down as “Toy Story 3” heads to theaters this summer, we get stuck with a fourth “Shrek” film merely months after such a great film pops out of their gates with this weekend’s “How to Train Your Dragon.”

For every “Dragon,” “Monsters vs Aliens” and “Kung Fu Panda” we also get the likes of “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” “Shrek the Third” and “Shark Tale.” Admittedly, there have been some great films from DreamWorks in between though or we wouldn’t have been so lucky to get “Wallace & Gromit in the Case of the Were-Rabbit,” “Over the Hedge,” “Chicken Run,” “Flushed Away” and even to a slightly lesser degree “Bee Movie.” Hopefully “MegaMind” can keep their streak alive this fall so we can forgive them if another trip to the “Shrek” well comes up drier than the third.

DreamWorks should consider themselves slightly lucky for bringing in co-directors Sanders and DeBlois (directors of one of Disney’s most underrated animated features, the hilarious “Lilo & Stitch”) after the original creative team was scrapped. Sanders and DeBlois along with their co-writers (Adam F. Goldberg and Peter Tolan) and animators, have seamlessly blended outstanding computer animation with a ton of heart and simulated a third dimension that seriously gives “Avatar” a run for its money.

The island of Berk has a pest control problem. If you thought everyday insects and rodents were bad, try living every day as a Viking fending off your poor sheep and fellow islanders against dragons. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is not your typical Viking with his scrawny stature and nasally voice, but his father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) definitely makes up for whatever shortcomings the village may find in Hiccup.

After a spectacular opening fight sequence, Hiccup has managed to take down the most feared dragon they know, but of course, no one believes him. Hiccup secretly sets out into the forest to see if he really did capture a dragon and finds it injured and trapped in a valley. Hiccup quickly dubs this dragon Toothless and over the sharing of raw fish, the two become friends as only a pet owner can know.

Meanwhile, Stoick leads a group of fellow Vikings out onto the high seas to find the dragon’s nest to try to put an end to the island’s attacks and Gobber (voiced by Craig Ferguson) throws Hiccup into dragon fighting training camp against his will. After Hiccup fastens a homemade tail to Toothless and takes to the air for a few high flying adventures Hiccup learns a thing or two outside the ring about what makes these dragons tick. He uses his newfound knowledge to become a celebrity, surprising the entire village and especially Stoick.

After Hiccup accidentally stumbles upon the dragon nest and sees that even the dragons have their own mortal enemy (in the form of a flying version of 1998’s “Godzilla”) he realizes that the nest is literal and that the dragons are only worker bees of sorts delivering food to a much bigger threat stuck inside a cave. Now it’s up to Hiccup and his friends from training to either teach their fellow Vikings that the dragons are the least of their worries and that they are not as dangerous as they seem.

Directors Sanders and DeBlois thankfully give just as much personality to each of the dragons as they do the characters. While most of the traits are attributed to man’s best friend, there’s a reason. Dogs probably have more heart and personality than any other pet on the planet. Toothless may come across as a canine version of Lilo but it’s to great detriment.

The voice cast is having a blast with the script too. With America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig, we get stellar vocal work. While most of these may have a Judd Apatow connection, they work extremely well in PG territory thanks to the wordplay of the writers.

However, everything really comes together thanks to how much heart has been pumped into the production. Even when it’s just Hiccup riding the back of Toothless through a patch of clouds you can tell from the animation that these characters, along with the rest of the villagers have camaraderie. That’s something that sometimes even the most live action films can’t distinguish.

There was one scene that seemed to be poking some fun at James Cameron’s opus and you’re just waiting for Hiccup to say, “I see you,” and while the moment never comes it shows that DreamWorks finally knows when to keep the easy joke on the backburner and keep their own material in the forefront.