As far as films made from smartphone games go, “The Angry Birds Movie” proves rather entertaining. Actually, there are no others to compare it to because this is the first Hollywood feature (and likely not the last) to be based on a downloadable app.
Whether such practices bode well for the future of filmmaking — or the human race, for that matter — remains up for debate. But for now, “Angry Birds” offers a chaotic yet amusing tale of animated avians battling plundering pigs.
Kansas City’s Jason Sudeikis voices Red, a mouthy bird raised in an isolated island paradise. Yet his fellow flightless inhabitants enjoy the surroundings more than he does. Perhaps that’s why his temper has gotten out of control, leading to court-mandated visits to the Infinity Acceptance Group — aka anger management class. There he meets outcasts Chuck (Josh Gad), a hyperactive speedster, and Bomb (Danny McBride), prone to genuinely explosive behavior.
When a ship arrives unannounced, the Bird Island residents are charmed by the friendly mammals led by Leonard (Bill Hader), a green pig sporting a beatnik beard. Only Red suspects something sinister. Why is Leonard so smitten with the soon-to-hatch eggs? And why is his vessel loaded with oversized slingshots, trampolines and cowboy outfits?
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“The Lego Movie” confirmed that with the right screenplay and cast, you can make a good animated picture out of anything. “Angry Birds” doesn’t quite belong in that league, but it effectively stretches a single-sentence synopsis into an hour and a half of cinema. It helps to have a cast of improv veterans to spice up the script by longtime “The Simpsons” writer Jon Vitti.
In Sudeikis’ hands, Red, a squat creature with bushy black eyebrows evocative of Eugene Levy, becomes a compelling hero. Despite temper issues, he’s never a true jerk so much as a keep-to-yourself curmudgeon; imagine a feathered Larry David.
The “Saturday Night Live” alum reunites with old cast mates Hader, Kate McKinnon and Maya Rudolph. Also earning laughs is Peter Dinklage, playing the vain absentee protector Mighty Eagle. Oscar winner Sean Penn voices the grunts made by laconic bird Terence, who looks like a cross between a cardinal and a sumo wrestler.
The visuals are bright and lively even as the third act grows more frenzied. And the filmmakers figure out how to organically mimic the game play in a manner that almost makes sense. (Sure could do with fewer bird puns, though.)
The movie’s message suggests that an individual’s negative qualities can be channeled to benefit society. Conversely, there’s a bit of nagging subtext implying that Red’s heated distrust of foreigners eventually establishes him as the only one capable of commanding. Doubtful that’s the intent of directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, but it’s tough not to draw comparisons to a certain political frontrunner.
Less subtle is the soundtrack. Even for a kid-centric movie, this is one arbitrary mishmash of Billboard debris, from original hits by Tone-Loc and the Scorpions to covers by Limp Bizkit.
If only Bird Island offered sanctuary from hearing Demi Lovato belt a version of “I Will Survive.”
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
‘The Angry Birds Movie’
Rated PG. Time: 1:37.
3-D or not 3-D?
Seems like a perfect excuse for 3-D: a movie based on a game in which stuff is thrown at the screen. The film offers plenty of roller coaster-style POV shots of avians zooming around obstacles or hurtling toward targets.
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