Madagascar delivers hearty laughs
They say that if you're going to steal you should steal from the best and it's obvious that was the strategy the makers followed in crafting Madagascar: Escape to Africa. While this sequel is a vast improvement over its irritating and cloying predecessor, it's obviously influenced in no small part by The Lion King, not simply because of similar settings, but its familiar plot as well. Though it will get no points for originality, there's no denying the sense of fun the film contains, supplied primarily from its game voice cast who elevate the material with their inspired work.
Having escaped from the title island due to the work of the group of militant penguins on an abandoned airplane from the '40s, the film's main quartet, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Scwimmer) find themselves in Africa after a crash landing. Recognizing they've returned to the home of their ancestors, they immediately make themselves comfortable and are welcomed by their peers, particularly Alex, who's reunited with his parents (Bernie Mac & Sherri Shepherd). This is great news for Makunga (Alec Baldwin), who longs to lead the group and sets in motion a series of events that leads to Alex and his father being cast out of the group, leaving him in charge.
Directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath keep things
moving at a rapid pace, so that any similarities to The Lion King are never dwelled on
and they do so with allusions to other film classics, Lawrence of Arabia and West Side Story most notably,
as well as some well-placed double entendres that will tickle parents and leave kids scratching
their heads. The rolling plains of Africa give the film an epic quality at
times, but it's the film's intimate moments between father and
son, and best friends Alex and Marty, that provide it with heart. This
story may be a familiar one, but I didn't mind hearing it once more,
as delivered by this entertaining crew.
A funny thing happens after Zack and Miri Make a Porno. They
actually fall in love. This is no big surprise as the foreshadowing of this
event is about as subtle as the off-color language writer/director Kevin
Smith uses in making this ribald yet sweet examination of love, sex and all
the messy complications inherent in them. As the title couple, Seth Rogan
and Elizabeth Banks generate an unexpected degree of charming chemistry as
two lifelong, plutonic friends who go to extreme measures to keep a roof
over their heads. Reduced to burning trash in a metal trash can in the
middle of the apartment they're about to be evicted from to stay
warm, the duo conspire to make a skinflick to sell and solve their
financial woes. Ah, if it were only that easy.
The aggravating thing about Smith is that while the social themes he explores in his films have merit, it's hard to take anything he says seriously as his work is awash in needless crudity that's beneath his talent. Once Zack and Miri have done the deed, they realize that it's not just sex between friends but an expression of passion between two reluctant lovers.
That's not to say that the filmmaker's sense of crudity, which he's obviously proud of, isn't present. The movie's filled from the first scene to the last with filthy visual gags, devastatingly funny dirty jokes and more than a few off-color moments on the set of the couple's blue movie. All of this would make a sailor blush and here it all seems fresh, thanks in large part to the cast. As opposed to many of his earlier films, Smith's actually working with a group of very talented actors and their ability to deliver a rejoinder with pitch perfect timing or emphasize a joke without overselling it makes all the difference. Rogan is charming, Banks is sweet, especially when confessing her love to her high school crush, The Office's Craig Robinson makes marital hell hilarious and Justin Long briefly steals the film as an openly gay porn star. Like its title duo, there's more than meets the eye at play here.