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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Hop

Hop (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Tim Hill, 2011

Hop. Thud.

Animated features, which are sometimes ghetto-ized as “children’s movies,“ have been among the brighter spots on the big studio schedules of the last few years. But Hop has a script that, on the screen, plays just as crummy as any gore-besotted alien monster massacre, any crash-happy action thriller, or any addle-brained rom-com that comes rolling out of Shameless-Hackland. It’s a big glossy, laughless botch.

Listen, I love bunnies as much as the next guy — and, in this movie, one of the next guys is Hugh Hefner — but this is ridiculous. This cutesy-wootsie saga of Easter Bunny slackers, evil Easter Chicks, L. A. layabouts, rock n’roll bunny wannabes, and a revolution on Easter Island (land of the Easter Bunny in this movie) is an insult to the intelligence of the seven-year-olds who will be its most receptive audience.

For about five minutes at the start, the movie had me. I was momentarily dazzled by its spectacular candy factory opening, where the camera flies down to the truculent statue-heads of Easter Island, darts down a secret passageway and finally swoops along the conveyor belts and chocolate vats and candy thingumabobs where all Easter stuff is supposedly being made — all as smoothly as a series of Max Ophuls tracking shots in Tim Burton-land.

It even had me when it introduced the somewhat annoying lead human character, slothful slacker and Easter Bunny fan Fred O’Hare (played by the live James Marsden of Enchanted), whom we meet as a little boy (Django Marsh), enchanted when he catches a glimpse of the Easter Bunny dropping off baskets, and thereby developing a lifelong bunny fixation.

It sort of had me when screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and director Tim Hill drag on the lead cartoon characters: the Easter Bunny himself (voiced by Hugh Laurie, in a half-funny Brit snob routine), the Big Bunny’s rock ’n roll wannabe son, Spielbergishly named E.B. (Russell Brand), and the scheming, rebellious Easter Chick Carlos (Hank Azaria, with a burlesque Mexican accent).

And I still hadn’t wised up when E.B. decamped to Hollywood, where he hooks up with Fred, and starts pooping jellybeans and trying to come up with so-called humor (lame zingers and amazingly laugh-challenged wisecracks), and where the movie definitively revealed its true agenda: bad jokes and L. A. clichés, mixed with elaborate animation, TV meta trendiness and loud, bright icky-poo cutesy-wootsies.

By then, Hop had turned into the usual rancid Hollywood wish-fulfillment semi-satire. Icky. Poo. I hesitate to synopsize further, but here we go: Fred — on his way to a local mansion, where he was unwisely house-sitting, thanks to his all-too-indulgent sister Sam O‘Hare (Kaley Cuoco) — nearly runs over E.B. The wascally wabbit wannabe fakes an injury and gets himself an unwise invite to the mansion, and the guys are then free to pursue their dreams: E.B.’s of being a rock n’roll drum god, and Fred’s, I guess, of being an Easter Bunny, maybe even the Big Bun himself. And the movie’s dream of being a bunny Santa Clause 2 (another partly Cinco-Daurio written movie), with long ears and twitchy nose, festooned with jelly bean poop.

Oh, did I mention that there’s a big talent show, called “Hoff Knows Talent,” fronted by David Hasselhoff, parodying himself? (Not a stretch, maybe.) Or that Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins show up as Fred’s parents, who get things rolling by booting him out of the house? Or that Azaria does the voice for another Easter chick, dancin’ fool Phil? Or that Hefner himself does a cameo, but that Hef and Hoff  (in Hop) never meet? An unending stream of slick nonsense just keeps pooping and popping out of Hop, a movie that misfires about as often as Elmer Fudd’s wifle.

The actors are pretty well done in by their lines, so it’s hard to blame them. Working with material like this (one critic has said, and he’s right, that the best line in the movie is “’Coup d’etat’ is French for ‘coup d’etat‘”) must be like Henny Youngman trying to wring yocks out of a recipe for boiled turnips. But Azaria, just barely, manages to poke his head above the comedy rubble both as Carlos and also as dancing’ Phil, a feat that may qualify as comedy above and beyond the call of duty.

Recently, it’s seemed that Hollywood’s big feature cartoons, Pixar’s and all the rest, have been almost the only big studio movies to have solid, intelligent, clever, fit-for-adults scripts. Here’s the exception that, we hope, proves the rule: a certifiably lousy screenplay by two writers (Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio) who, just last year, had their names on a certifiably good one: Despicable Me. Was it them? Their new director, Tim Hill, honed his skills not only writing for “Spongebob Squarepants” and directing the Muppets (good) but directing Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield movies (not so good). Was it him? Was it just the fallacy of trying to stuff something for everyone in the same scrappy basket?

The movie, even if it cleans up for a while (lots of elementary schoolers with disposable parents and teens-to-twenties  with time on their hands) is just befuddlingly bad. It’s empty of wit or magic or even common ordinary cornball humor. Even though it’s set in Hollywood in the worlds of TV, show biz and rock n’ roll, Hop doesn’t even bother to get itself much of a good, snappy extended pop score, which might have redeemed the entire movie. As it is, one of the highlights is a recording session with E.B. and The Blind Boys of Alabama, which, however, the film keeps cutting into.

If you’re going to make a movie about the music world, why not have more music? But then again, if you’re going to make a comedy about the Easter Bunny, why not have a few laughs? Or a few more bunnies? Or a few good bunny jokes for Hef and the Hoff? Hop. Flop.

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So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon