Friday, May 21, 2010

Shrek Forever After: Serene green

Shrek Forever After (2010) • View trailer for Shrek Forever After
3.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for mild rude humor
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.21.10
Buy DVD: Shrek Forever After (Single-Disc Edition) • Buy Blu-Ray: Shrek Forever After (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

DreamWorks insists that Shrek Forever After will be the final installment of a saga that dates back to the first film's development plans in 1995, and that's probably a good thing.

The law of diminishing returns has infected this franchise. While our jolly green ogre's fourth adventure certainly isn't a bad film, the formula has grown tired, and  more crucially  the characters no longer feel fresh. The snarky banter has become obligatory, rather than inspired by circumstance; the riffs on familiar fairy tales have lost their spontaneity.
Fiona, far left, couldn't be happier with the domestic turn her life has taken.
Shrek, alas, isn't as certain; although he loves his wife and adores his three
children, he misses the "good ol' days" when he could be his rude ogre self.
He's about the learn the perils of that old warning: Be careful what you wish
for ... because you might get it!

That said, Eddie Murphy's Donkey still brings down the house, and Antonio Banderas  his Puss in Boots having undergone something of a physical change  isn't far behind. Murphy's one-liners are a hoot, as are Donkey's various attempts to carry a tune, and viewers  particularly viewers with cats  will laugh every time Puss in Boots appears.

I only wish writers Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke had worked as hard with the other characters. The irony is reflected in this screenplay's basic premise: Just as Shrek chafes at how domesticity and family responsibilities have sapped the "ogre-ness" (read: bachelor frivolity) that made him such an endearing rascal in 2001's first outing, this film's emphasis on marital harmony and baby ogre diaper duty dictates standard-issue plot points that work against the free-spirited unpredictability we enjoyed so much a decade ago.

It's the eternal dilemma: We want the rogue hero (or heroine) to become responsible, surmount all manner of obstacles and save/impress the object of affection, but  having done so  we're immediately less engaged by the new dynamic. There's a good reason so many romantic comedies and thrillers conclude with the embrace and kiss we've waited to see for two hours: That's invariably the end of the interesting part of the story.

The rest is afterthought ... which is why most films shouldn't beget sequels.

Shrek Forever After  a deliberate riff on the Frank Capra/James Stewart classic, It's a Wonderful Life  begins as Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) gradually succumbs to the lifestyle changes faced by any new parent. At first delighted to be the proud father of bouncing, puke-green triplets, his pleasure wanes as various daddy duties encroach on his few remaining pleasures: quality time in the family outhouse and his beloved mud bath.

Matters aren't helped by the fact that his home has become a popular tourist stop, or that the citizens of Far Far Away now assume that family life has 'tamed' him completely. How can an ogre be an ogre, if he can't annoy or scare people?

This deftly assembled early montage, of Shrek's increasingly claustrophobic family life, is director Mike Mitchell's finest moment ... which is unfortunate, since it arrives so early. Nothing else lives up to it.

Shrek hits full boil and finally erupts during a well-intentioned but wholly chaotic first birthday party for his children. He stalks off and unwisely allows himself to be picked up by the scheming Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn, wonderfully malevolent), a nasty, duplicitous little gnome who has worn out his welcome with everybody else in Far Far Away.

Apparently, Shrek didn't get that memo.

Too many highballs and an unwisely signed contract later, Shrek has traded an "inconsequential" day from his childhood for 24 hours in the here and now, when he can be his former bad self.

Ah, but Rumpelstiltskin has erased the day Shrek was born. That means he never rescued Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from the castle tower  indeed, they never even met  and Donkey never got smoochy-woochy with the ferocious dragon guarding said castle, and so forth, and so forth. Worse yet, Fiona's parents have been whisked out of existence, allowing Rumpelstiltskin to become supreme high emperor of the land, aided by hundreds of witches who help terrorize the civilian populace.

When they're not hunting ogres.

And once Shrek's promised 24 hours are up, he'll simply vanish ... because, of course, he never was born to begin with.

Despite the obvious potential to re-craft all the familiar characters into warped versions of themselves in this alternate-universe version of Far Far Away, Klausner and Lemke don't take much advantage of the opportunity. Donkey doesn't change at all, and the dragon  when finally revealed  is the same ferocious monster from the first film.

The "new" Puss in Boots, though ... ah, that's a different story. Plenty of revisionist hilarity went into this character, and he never disappoints. The same can be said of Rumpelstiltskin, who demands a different wig to reflect each of his changing moods; he's quite a hoot.

Fortunately, the scales aren't completely unbalanced; Shrek discovers an entire ogre community, where he becomes the runt of the bunch. These hunted creatures have formed a resistance unit, and they're led by none other than Fiona, who in this universe has become a Xena-esque warrior woman.

The ogres have planned an offensive against Rumpelstiltskin on this very night, little realizing that the diminutive martinet has hired the realm's most feared bounty hunter to stop them: the Pied Piper.

The latter newcomer, although a cleverly conceived henchman, is responsible for one of this film's more visible problems: too many gratuitously inserted pop tunes and impromptu "dance numbers." They become tiresome.

And, speaking of gratuitous, this film's use of 3-D is unimaginative and utterly pointless. When we reach Shrek's whooshing broomstick duel with witches within the garishly re-decorated confines of Rumpelstiltskin's palace, it's hard not to regard the sequence as anything but a ducking-and-swooping time-filler: Been there, seen that ... many times lately, most recently in Clash of the Titans.

Honestly, there's no reason to spend the extra $$$ to watch this in 3-D. Take the standard option, which does much better justice to the clever use of color palettes devised by production designer Peter Zaslav and art director Max Boas.

I realize, having reached the concluding threads of this review, that Shrek Forever After has been damned with faint praise. That's probably not fair: It's a rambunctious, frequently funny way to spend 90 minutes, and younger viewers are certain to have a great time. This final glimpse of our favorite green ogre really only pales when compared to its predecessors, which set the creativity bar and snark factor pretty high.

And, as usual, you'll want to remain for all the closing credits: definitely another high point.

No comments:

Post a Comment