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Looney Tunes: Back in Action (November 13/03)

Let's face it; Space Jam just wasn't all that good. The Looney Tunes gang took a backseat to an over-the-top storyline and a steady stream of celebrity cameos. Though Back in Action does occasionally suffer from the same two problems, the film mostly stays true to the shorts that inspired these animated characters and proves to be a lot more fun than Space Jam.

Brendan Fraser stars as DJ Drake, an aspiring stuntman and the son of a famous actor named Damien (Timothy Dalton). After his father is kidnapped by the nefarious chairman of the Acme corporation (played by Steve Martin), DJ has no choice but to try and save his dad. Along for the ride are Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, while Warner Bros. executive Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman) reluctantly joins the trio hoping to bring Daffy back into the Looney Tunes fold (he was fired for demanding too much screentime).

It's certainly an overactive storyline, but for the most part it works. Director Joe Dante is clearly having a great time with this material and these characters, and imbues the film with a palpable sense of fun. And as expected from a Dante movie, there are a lot of cameos from old-school filmmakers and actors - with the obvious highlight Kevin McCarthy reprising his Invasion of the Body Snatchers role (this five-second portion of the film is virtually worth the price of admission).

But the film occasionally goes overboard with almost relentless sequences of action, particularly when the gang travels to Vegas. A barroom brawl is immediately followed by a long car chase, and it's excessive in all the worst ways. Characters get pushed aside in favor of spectacle, which proves to be far less successful than scenes that just feature the Looney Tunes gang doing their thing. Fortunately, that particular section of the film is the only real instance of that, with the rest of the movie striking a nice balance between overblown shenanigans and comical vignettes.

The real reason for seeing Back in Action is for Bugs Bunny and company, and in that respect, the film doesn't disappoint. Virtually every popular character makes an appearance (though I would've liked more screentime for Marc Anthony, that bulldog with a pet kitten), and their behavior is kept fairly close to how it was in those classic shorts. As for the actors, they're all game - with Fraser giving a typically enthusiastic performance.

Back in Action should please both fans and neophytes of Looney Tunes alike, which is undoubtedly an impressive feat. Though there isn't really any comparison between the film and the brilliant shorts, Dante effectively updates these much-loved characters without trampling over what made them great in the first place.

out of

© David Nusair