The Smurfs

28 Dec

Title: The Smurfs
Year: 2011
Director: Raja Gosnell
Writers: J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick and David Ronn, with a story by Mr. Stem and Mr. Weiss, based on the characters by Peyo
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, Sofia Vergara, Tim Gunn, Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry, Fred Armisen, Alan Cumming, Anton Yelchin, George Lopez, Jeff Foxworthy, Paul Reubens, Gary Basaraba, John Oliver, Kenan Thompson, B.J. Novak
MPAA Rating: PG, some mild rude humor and action
Runtime: 103 min
IMDb Rating: 5.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 23%
Metacritic: 30

This is me trying to catch up with some of the films I didn’t get to see when they first came out, and the first one I’m giving a go is one that came out some five-months ago, the CGI/live-action mash-up that was The Smurfs movie, which I didn’t see then mostly because it looked like it was going to be a rather considerable waste of time, no matter how much I loved the people in front of the camera and the cartoon series it spawned from. And, unfortunately, I was exactly right; the cast, both the live-action actors and the ones providing the voice work, truly do their best to make this one worth it, but the fact is that it’s just such a silly, infantile movie that not even them can do anything to make it anything resembling decent.

I know this one’s obviously aimed at very little kids, so calling it infantile may be unfair criticism because that’s kind of what it was going for, but what I mean is that even for kiddie fare, The Smurfs doesn’t even try, aiming at the most dumb kind of jokes, some of them involving poop, and going overboard with using the word “smurf” in order to create some kind of wordplay or double entendres that don’t work in the first place and are just overused here, all of that while some shameless product placement goes along. There’s nothing in this film we haven’t seen before, it’s like this film got every little stunt from the playbook of the Alvin and the Chipmunks films, or the Garfield films or this year’s Hop and threw them all together, trying to make it seem as though they were doing something new. But it’s obviously the stuff they’re giving us is nothing original, not to mention that the films they choose to recycle material from weren’t very good in the first place.

I would normally say The Smurfs is a good film if you’ve got a kid in tow and want to pop in a DVD to chill out for a while. But I don’t even think that’s the case here, I don’t think many kids will love the repeated use of “What the smurf?” as an example of that “clever” wordplay; the endless puns that don’t work once, and grown-ups certainly will grow tired fast, watching Neil Patrick Harris, an awesome actor by all accounts, trying his best to salvage this whole thing but failing at it. What kids may like is that the titular characters of this film are kind of like them in many ways, all super curious, all hyper, finding their way in a world full of adults who walk tall amongst them and get mad for every little mayhem they cause. So yes, maybe kids will get a kick out of it for those reasons, maybe, I’m still unsure, but trust me when I say adults will find this a horrible experience, watching many little blue creatures acting like a bunch of small children on red bull, praying to god the kids they’re seeing the movie with won’t get inspired to go all frantic once the film ends.

These little guys first came to life over a half-century ago, creations by a Belgian comic book artist called Peyo; of course they then got bigger and bigger, getting their own Saturday morning TV show, becoming part of the cultural lexicon, each little Smurf having a name and a trait that defined them (Brainy Smurf, Clumsy Smurf, Jokey Smurf, you get the gist), people loved them because they were just a sweet-natured, innocent kind of fun. Which is why I think this film fails. I thought director Raja Gosnell just missed the mark incredibly when trying to get that innocence to come through, instead the whole thing’s kind of a mess, which may be wouldn’t be such a surprise considering this is the guy that gave us both Scooby-Doo live-action films and Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

The film starts up in the kind of Smurf village we remember, though done in CGI that makes it look far less enchanting, with our little blue friends doing their daily routine, living and loving life as they try to escape the sorcerer Gargamel and his cat Azrael. Gargamel, by the way, is played by Hank Azaria who I love but who really goes way too over-the-top here, probably hoping all that make-up will make him unrecognizable. The thing is that all of a sudden a portal opens up and the Smurfs are suddenly in Central Park and try to enlist Mr. Harris’ character, a marketing VP for a cosmetics firm, and his pregnant wife, played by Glee’s Jayma Mays, to help them get back home. It’s impossible to maintain the innocence that made us love these characters when a film is so busy with product placement and celebrity cameos and pop-culture references.

This is a bad film, and it sucks because I loved the source material and I love many of the actors involved here. And to see Mr. Harris and Ms. Mays try their all to be earnest and try to sell this product, or to see Mr. Azaria tackle on the role of Gargamel so badly, and many great actors doing voices that go to waste (Alan Cumming for crying out loud!), is truly quite sad. If you loved the Saturday morning cartoon, avoid this one, watching the Smurfs do rap a version of ‘Walk this Way’ with allusions to how hot Smurfette is (she’s voiced by Katy Perry, natch) will make it impossible for you to look at them the same way again.

Grade: C-


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