Nicolas CageSteve BuscemiPenelope CruzKelli Garner
Medium: film
Year: 2009
Director: Hoyt Yeatman
Writer: Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley, Hoyt Yeatman, David P.I. James
Actor: Bill Nighy, Sam Rockwell, Will Arnett, Jon Favreau, Zach Galifianakis, Nicolas Cage, Kelli Garner, Penelope Cruz, Tyler Patrick Jones, Steve Buscemi, Piper Mackenzie Harris, Gabriel Casseus, Tracy Morgan, Jack Conley, Niecy Nash, Justin Mentell, Loudon Wainwright III, Mini Anden
Country: USA
Format: 88 minutes
Website category: Other
Review date: 29 December 2010
It's more watchable than you'd think, although that's not saying much. It's a live-action children's action movie from Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films, starring guinea pigs who are spies for the FBI. Naturally I'd assumed it was an abomination. This film was a running joke in our household, until in violation of the Geneva convention we got given the DVD as a Christmas present.
The reason we received this is that we have four pet guinea pigs, but that's also precisely the reason why I hated the trailer. I know what guinea pigs look like. They have one facial expression (gormless) and they're basically slugs with hair. This though stars Frankenstein's CGI Creations with rubber faces and oversized mouths, who strut on their hind legs and say things like "pimp my ride". Imagine my joy. What's still more annoying though is that the premise sounds even funnier with real guinea pigs. "Okay, Agent 007, you've got to infiltrate the enemy compound and... yes, they do have carrots." You could do deadpan comedy. It would also have been nice to be reminded of guinea pigs' voices, which are musical, expressive and rather beautiful to make up for their lack of visual cues for each other.
In the actual film, though, I got used to them. They're more reminiscent of real guinea pigs when on all fours, although to be honest I don't think maintaining the illusion was a priority. One happy surprise though was that there are other animals too. There's a star-nosed mole, a hamster, three brainless mice, cockroaches and a housefly, which adds variety.
What's good about the film is that it's inoffensive fun with small animal action scenes. That's it. It's aiming as low as it can, but we knew that. You'd have to be some kind of grinch to come out of this film hating the world. Two of our four guinea pigs are annoying, but fortunately they're just sidekicks and the main two are likeable. These are:
1. Sam Rockwell = the film's hero and a nice guy, being neither a swellhead nor a monster of instantly dated pop culture references. Actually he's kind of sweet.
2. Penelope Cruz = the sexy guinea pig. No, really. This is even more painful than you're imagining, especially when the film introduces a very minor subplot of "she's really interested in him, but she's pretending not to be interested to make him interested".
3. Tracy Morgan = the hip, cool one. NEEDS TO DIE.
4. Jon Favreau = an ordinary pet shop fatso who ends up tagging along anyway and has the nearest the film gets to emotional material that works.
None of the voice actors are memorable. Actually appearing on-screen is Bill Nighy, of all people, who occasionally tries to add a bit of personality but his villain role is undercooked. What's that accent, by the way? Other on-screen humans include uptight FBI superiors, imprisoned by their cliched story roles, and a couple of good guys in Zach Galifianakis and Kelli Garner, both of whom are disappointing even by the standards of a film like this.
As for the story, it's mostly too formulaic to go wrong. However occasionally they'll try to do an Emotional Moment, but without giving it the screen time it needs for fear of boring the kiddies. "I could have told you the truth" is the film's cue for cheap and immediately undone angst. Favreau's guinea pig gets one good moment, but otherwise we're looking at emotional content as satisfying for the audience as chewing cardboard. Fortunately though it's sufficiently tokenistic that you could turn it into a drinking game. There's also an insanely cheap double-twist ending. Incidentally that nervousness in the editing suite is also visible in something as simple as scene transitions, which every so often are jarring.
Oh, and here's some sample dialogue:
"Time to get this party started."
"Let's finish this."
"Let's do this."
"Hey, bro. You have to admit we make a pretty sweet team."
"It's showtime." (twice)
This film is in some ways the very model of insulting Hollywood bollocks, but despite this it's also watchable. I liked the mole, while stupid mice are funny. It's low-rent action fun and as such passable. It exceeded my expectations and I was being nice about it afterwards without lying. I just wish it had been less ignorant of its subject matter, for instance by being aware that guinea pigs aren't good at falling from heights or that they wouldn't eat cake. They're picky animals, actually. Under no circumstances allow children or other aesthetically vulnerable persons to watch this film, but it's better than watching a blank screen if you see that it's on television.