Review: Bee Movie

Jerry Seinfeld. Funny guy, right? After all, he's one of the masterminds behind "Seinfeld," perhaps one of the most outstanding sitcoms ever created. This is why "Bee Movie" (IMDb listing) will go down as one of the more bewildering misfires of the year.

A graduate of his hive, Barry Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld) is heading off to his job procuring honey for his community of bees (including Matthew Broderick). When the reality of the dull work day hits him, Barry takes off to New York, finding himself communicating with Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a sympathetic human to the bee world. When Barry gets wind of rampant honey abuse, he takes humans to court, battling for control of the golden delight. Now rich with power, Barry is shocked to learn a bee's place in the world is far greater than he ever imagined.

As if there wasn't enough money in Seinfeld's coffers, here he comes to milk the lucrative family film market. Blessed with children himself, Seinfeld wanted to make a movie that would hold some appeal to youngsters, so bid adieu to the cynical, bracing material that made his television show so pleasurable and say hello to bright magic marker colors, groan-inducing puns, and paint-by-numbers screenwriting. What better way to reach young audiences than to utilize the same exact CG-animated template Hollywood has been abusing for over a decade now?

To be fair, "Bee Movie" isn't a wide-awake nightmare. In fact, it's pretty darn cute when it can summon up a little invention, envisioning a scale-appropriate world for the bees and their foibles. There's also something to be said about Seinfeld's enthusiasm for the material he co-wrote. He takes the word "animated" very seriously.

The problem is, none of it is funny. There are smiles here and there, but without a certain pucker to the jokes, the film dies in its rabid pursuit to tickle. Seinfeld is funnier than bee puns and Larry King cameos (perhaps Jay Leno turned him down?), no doubt. However, "Bee Movie" is consumed with mediocrity, playing it very safe, tossing in the occasional adult reference toward race or religious background, but the rest of the film is strictly honey-flavored pulp for kid matinees.

Sonically speaking, the film is packed with star cameos and famous character actors, with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Chris Rock, John Goodman, Ray Liotta, Sting (playing himself, of course), Rip Torn, and Patrick Warburton, in what could very be his 10,000 th animated feature film doing the exact same voice. The best reading comes from Zellweger, who fearlessly plays Vanessa as a slight wack job/alcoholic, slurring her speech with a delightful 17-apple-martini dialect that counteracts all the formula.

I suppose I should be grateful for the little ideas "Bee Movie" failed to follow through on, such as the romantic feelings Barry has for Vanessa (I'd like to see that offspring) or the absence of any "Seinfeld" references. Certainly "Bee Movie" could've been smarter, faster, and far cleverer, and it's disappointing to watch Seinfeld settle for less. For a man who made a mint reveling in comedic risk on a weekly basis, his first movie lacks serious sting.

Filmfodder Grade: C