Reviews

Review: Over the Hedge

After destroying a hibernating bear's (voiced by Nick Nolte) food stash, raccoon RJ (Bruce Willis) is forced to gather up a replacement before the season is over. Desperate, RJ meets up with a pack of animals (including William Shatner, Avril Lavigne, Wanda Sykes, Eugene Levy, and Catherine O'Hara) also searching for food to sustain them over the next winter. After convincing them of the great promise the new suburban development over the hedge holds for snacks, RJ leads an attack on the neighborhood, alienating the group leader, turtle Verne (Garry Shandling), who slowly realizes RJ's deceptions, but is powerless to convince his friends of it.

This new CG animated world of cinema has quickly fallen into monotony; Pixar has established the screenwriting standard, perfecting their rudimentary third act "message" movements and reliance on cute and cuddly characters, and now DreamWorks animation is constantly left to play catch-up. Aiming directly at convention, "Over the Hedge" (based on a comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis) is a frustrating picture because DreamWorks plays it far too safe to make something truly special.

"Over the Hedge" (IMDb listing) is a bubbly picture with a stable premise and a dependable voice cast. Stand back just a bit and there's nothing blatantly offensive about the product; but something feels off about the screenwriting, which crosses slapstick with random studio-mandated stabs at heartstring tugging. There's nothing inherently wrong with caring for this armada of forest animals, I just wish directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick would've taken greater care to introduce TJ's last-act spasms of remorse in a gradual manner, instead of bulldozing it home just because they've reached a certain page number in the script. The second half of "Hedge" can be quite a bore for those who can see past the purposefully distracting colors and the frothy mayhem. The story starts to take itself somewhat seriously, and begs the viewers to fall in love with RJ instead of, more interestingly, trusting they will. The standard CG screenwriting template just doesn't fit here.

Why should second-rate scripting be a concern? Because "Hedge" can be ruthlessly entertaining when it wants to be, and that isn't nearly enough.

In the suburban infiltration sequences, "Hedge" is a clever contraption, mixing light satire on suburban social traditions and the bad nutritional habits of humans with expected furball goofiness. It comes together in a mix that should appeal to the Saturday afternoon minivan crowd along with animation purists who crave the attention to joke detail the film provides. Watching RJ manipulate his "troops" is a kick, and the screenwriters make a concerted effort to allow time for each character's animal trait to be explored, or, in the case of Sykes's skunk, fully exploited. "Hedge" is gangbusters with its carefree tone and slapstick humor, and succeeds in laughs where other CG features tend to sputter.

Maybe not so curiously, the most sublime character in "Hedge" is Hammy, an overexcited, perpetually nervous squirrel. The spastic animal adds some subtle jokes to the film, as he provides an anarchic spirit that the movie oddly abandons, and then clumsily tries to reignite for a big finale. As Hammy, Steve Carell blends completely with his animated counterpart, vocally and visually pinballing around the frame with glee. Carell scores the film's biggest laugh: Hammy finally gets a hotly desired opportunity to drink a caffeinated soda.

"Hedge" is surely an entertaining film, but it needed more of Hammy's level of inspiration rather than creaky plot machinations.

Filmfodder Grade: B