Free Birds (C-)

Free Birds is like a trip to Chuck E. Cheese: a noisy, expensive way to blow two hours with your kids that will leave you feeling tired, addled and dazed, wondering: “I paid for that?”   Read ahead for why I’m being so mean to Chuck E. Cheese in particular.

Story.  The plot – – such as it is – – focuses on Reggie the Turkey (Owen Wilson), a brainy, thin misfit among his dumb, cornfed flock.  Reggie gets plucked (sorry, could not resist) out of his humdrum life when the President (somebody doing his best Bill Clinton) pardons him.  Whisked away to the President’s posh retreat at Camp David, Reggie has just discovered the joys of pizza and crap TV when a muscle-bound, wild turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson) birdnaps him.  Jake believes that Reggie is destined to save all turkey-kind by taking a time machine back to the First Thanksgiving and somehow stopping the settlers from figuring out how tasty turkeys really are.  So, off Jake and Reggie go to the 1600’s.  There, they meet up with their smart, spiritually grounded ancestor turkeys – – who walk around with war paint designed to make them look not-so-vaguely Native American.  Reggie falls in love with a feisty, girl turkey with a lolling eye (Amy Poehler), and – – together – – they ward off attacks from the starving, sinister and vaguely psychotic colonists.

Free Birds is a mess.  It ping pongs from one plot point to another, hoping that you will mistake frenetic activity for an actual story.  The dialogue is snarky without being witty: like a sarcastic teenager shouting one-liners that wouldn’t even make his friends giggle.  And the product placement!  At the end, the turkeys convince the settlers to eat pizza  – – Chuck E. Cheese pizza, with the logo prominently displayed on every box.  I’m sweet on capitalism, but that bit of marketing was so bald and intrusive that it made me want to kick Chuck E. Cheese’s smarmy mouse mascot in the crotch.

Look, I understand the temptation to see this flick.  There are so few Thanksgiving flicks out there, and . . . this one has turkeys and even a token Native American or two!  But, please, save your money.  If the HUGE historical inaccuracies and marketing don’t offend you, THINK OF YOURSELF!!  This movie is practically guaranteed to make your kids turn their noses up at the lovingly cooked turkey dinner you plan to give them.  Imagine: seven hours of cooking only to be told that they want pizza . . . Chuck E. Cheese pizza!

P.S. I have to grudgingly admit that this movie has two saving graces: (1) George Takei’s silky baritone as the voice of the time machine (very funny); and (2) the animation of New England in the Fall – – it’s wicked pretty.

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Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 (C+)

Steve Jobs as the New Darth Vader

I know what you’re thinking: what soppy, manic movie will teach my kids to fear techie, capitalist Steve Jobs-style icons and their geeky, hipster minions??  Okay, maybe you weren’t thinking that, but Cloudy 2 fits the bill.   While your kids ogle the colorful, food creatures they’ve seen in previews, we adults can sit back and enjoy some long overdue jokes at Silicon Valley’s expense.

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Planes (B-)

The tagline for this Pixar knockoff is “Planes: From the World Above Cars.”  Instead, it should be “Planes: Open Your Wallet.”  Originally intended as straight-to-video fare, Planes is a slick, 90-minute commercial for Disney’s new line of toy planes.  After hearing each character name, I half-expected an announcer to break in and tell me that it costs “just 7.99, while supplies last.”

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The Smurfs 2 (D)

This movie is a steaming pile of smurf.  

Parents, I understand the temptation to go see this dreck.  It’s summer, and this flick seems like an easy way to murder a few hours while boosting your own popularity with the kids.  As you sink into your cushy, theater seats and savor the popcorn and air conditioning, you’ll think you made a wise choice.  But, then as the seconds turn into minutes, you will be hit with the dawning realization of what you have done to yourself.  Watching The Smurfs 2 is like spending two hours wiping up a giant puddle of chunky, blue vomit.

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Turbo (C-)

If you want to reinforce your kid’s sense of entitlement, Turbo is the movie for you.  Derivative and bland, Turbo teaches kids that if you can dream it, you can and SHOULD have it. 

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Despicable Me 2 (C+)

Despicable Me 2 is like cotton candy.  Give it to your kids once or twice, but DO NOT buy it and keep it readily available at home.  See it at the theater if you must (or better yet, rent it), but DO NOT BUY THIS MOVIE!

DM2 focuses on reformed villain Gru (Steve Carell).  Defanged by love, Gru spends most of his time looking after his three plucky, adopted daughters.  Gru is content, but bored.  So he becomes an undercover agent for the Anti-Villain League.  His mission – – not that it matters – – is to figure out who has stolen a serum that can transform bunny rabbits into ruthless, indestructible killers.  Gru and his agent-partner, zany, warm Lucy (Kristen Wiig), set out to find the serum.  Along the way, Gru crosses paths with a salsa-dancing, Mexican restaurateur (Benjamin Bratt), reacts badly to his eldest daughter’s suitor, and falls in love for the first time. Continue reading

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Monsters University (B+)

Let’s not kid ourselves.  YOU ARE GOING TO SEE THIS MOVIE.  Unless your kids live under a rock, they are already dying to see it and buy the oodles of merchandise it will generate.  And that’s a good thing because this is a fun flick with some big ideas going on in it.  So go, strap on a popcorn feedbag, and then talk with your little ones about the core conflict in the movie. What matters more: hard work or talent?

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