Review of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Friday, June 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A rabbit out of a hat? That's squirrel's play compared to the task of making Rocky and Bullwinkle work for these times. The original Bullwinkle Show, once a tasty piece of '60s Cold War satire and delightfully mooserible puns, would seem ripe for the mindless gimmickry and calculated adolescent appeal of most modern TV knock-offs. (Of course, someone actually paid to see Jeff Daniels make a fool of himself in My Favorite Martian).

Sure enough, the new Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle movie runs into its share of "beeg" trouble. But it also retains a good chunk of the original's tricky highbrow-lowbrow balance, especially given the lobotomized concessions that come with the recent TV-to-movie territory. It's even worthy of faint praise for surpassing last year's big screen adventures of Dudley Do-Right.

This time around, Moose (voiced by Keith Scott) and Squirrel (original Rocky voice June Foray) are computer-animated creatures mixed up in a hard, cruel live-action world. Their mission, which they choose to accept: stop the non-animated trio of Boris (Jason Alexander), Natasha (Rene Russo) and Fearless Leader (a game Robert De Niro) from zombie-fying the world through hypnotically bad television. Why not just score programming jobs with the networks?

Actually, screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan makes sure R and B has that angle covered. The fearless one's RBTV outfit (that's Really Bad Television) runs 'round-the-clock sitcoms, talk shows and reality TV, none of which look quite as inane as the bottom of the real barrel. The script also incorporates plenty of rerun jokes and gets some fun mileage out of the titular duo's transfer to the big-screen world. (When confronted with doom, Bullwinkle suggests waiting it out until the next commercial).

Copious metafilmic references make it easier to overlook the more pedestrian gags. We're reminded throughout that this moose-squirrel pairing emerged from a computer, and that they can be eliminated by the same. Yet Rocky and Bullwinkle often strains to appeal to adults and children alike, a tall order that only the best "kids movies" can pull off.

Piper Perabo's spunky FBI agent, Karen Sympathy - gotta love those names - assists our heroes, handles most of the smarminess and personifies the rather forced "get in touch with your inner child" message. More concrete morals await for the politically savvy: "Turn off the TV and vote for whoever you want!" advises Bullwinkle down the stretch, making us wonder if perhaps we need a Talking Moose ticket to shake up the two-party system.

The computer-generated Rocky gets away with too much mugging, and cameos from Janeane Garofalo, Jonathan Winters, Whoopi Goldberg, John Goodman and Nickelodeon's Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson feel more desperate than inspired. But there's enough subversive intelligence poking through the surface of Rocky and Bullwinkle to make fans smile through the rest of the dross. There goes that faint praise again.