Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater


Robots (PG)

Directed by: Carlos Saldanha, Chris Wedge
Starring: Ewan McGregor
March 2005

“Serviceable Story That Makes A Lot Out of Junk”

Robots is an astonishing clinic in computer-generated animation, the sleek vision of a fully realized synthetic world. This newest—and seemingly inevitable—iteration in CGI is crisper in its clarity and more vibrant in its palette than anything previously seen in the genre and has, effectively, risen the bar that much higher for Shrek 3 and other future movies of the same ilk. It’s evident that director, Chris Wedge (Ice Age), and crew were on a creative high assembling the nuts and bolts of the story, and though the flick is chock-full of dizzying action sequences, narrow escapes and drops and turns that make you feel like you’re on a roller coaster, the plot consistently lags behind the movie’s runaway pacing.

Rodney Copperbottom (voice of Ewan McGregor) heeds the call of the big city, leaving his parents and rural Rivet City behind to pursue his dreams of becoming an inventor in Robot City. Rodney immediately encounters Fender (Robin Williams, whose repertoire is getting repetitious), a vociferous misfit who falls to pieces any time the story calls for a laugh. Rodney’s first attempt at showing his invention to his boyhood hero, altruistic uber-inventor, Big Weld (Mel Brooks), is nearly disastrous as he narrowly escapes the clutches of greedy egotist, Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). Rodney learns, almost too late, that Ratchet supplanted Big Weld in a recent coup and has launched a campaign to beautify all of robotkind (and make millions in the process). Rodney’s ability to fix broken down robots transforms the small town droid into an urban legend, however, Rodney’s newfound fame poses a serious threat to Ratchet, who plans to destroy every spare part in the city, thereby forcing older models to get an upgrade. The climax pits Rodney and his army of rickety robots against Ratchet and his newer, larger, more powerful battle ‘bots. The ending ceremony is an emotional flourish—warm fuzzies soar like ticker tape—but the ensuing celebration is reminiscent of the one seen in
Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace.

I mention
Star Wars, because there are countless tips of the hat to (or blatant rip offs of) Lucas’ space saga, which surface at various times throughout the movie—the downtrodden underdogs marching against the evil overlords brings to mind Episode I and VI’s Gungans and Ewoks, respectively, and even Ratchet’s new robot sweepers look virtually identical to Episode I’s Trade Federation MTTs (battle droid carriers). Aside from Star Wars, Robots owes its metallurgical existence to The Wizard of Oz; motifs and archetypes from the perennial classic run rampant though the picture.

If there’s a rusty side to the seemingly chrome-plated screenplay, it’s the gimmicky manner in which the tale is told—much of the story is programmed with standard gags and slapstick silliness, especially Fender’s shtick.
Robots, however, does have a salient moral: the conflict between the outmodes and the upgrades is a new spin on the old topic of intolerance—the devaluing of anyone or anything that doesn’t measure up to an imposed standard. In our nip-tuck, Botox-injected society, Robots reveals an insightful—even insidious—look at our own vanity and a sneak peek at where that brand of narcissism can take us. What a bold statement from an animated movie made in Hollywood!

Robots isn’t as funny as billed, but it’s a diverting romp with memorable characters and a positive message. Now we’ll have to see if there are enough spare parts to make a sequel.

Rating: 2 1/2

Evolution (PG-13)

Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: David Duchovny
June 2001

Phil Tippet’s unique creatures and solid acting performances by David Duchovny and Julianne Moore couldn’t bring
Evolution past a primordial stage. You might even be disappointed paying the matinee price for this one.

Rating: 1 1/2

Titan A.E. (PG)

Director: Don Bluth
Starring: Matt Damon
June 2000

The science is appalling in this animated sci-fi flick, but the creativity is quite high—I especially liked the planet with hydrogen trees and the chase through the ice field. Ultimately,
Titan A.E. fails to entertain even with the aid of stellar voice talents like Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore and Nathan Lane.

Rating: 2

Frequency (PG-13)

Director: Gregory Hoblit
Starring: Dennis Quaid
April 2000

What a great movie!
Frequency has a riveting, pulse-pounding plot and excellent performances by Dennis Quaid and James Caviezel as a father and son duo separated by time, but mysteriously connected by a HAM radio. Every time they alter history, a new set of variables come into play, creating more problems and ratcheting up the tension. This Murphy’s Law scenario is wildly entertaining—if not a bit far-fetched—and the ending twist makes you want to stand and applaud. The most enjoyable movie I’ve seen this year.

Rating: 3

Galaxy Quest (PG)

Director: Dean Parisot
Starring: Tim Allen
December 1999

This good-natured spoof of
Star Trek (specifically) and other sci-fi shows (generally) is a laugh-a-minute thrill ride that avoids ruffling the feathers of hard-core fans by never taking itself seriously. Tim Allen is flawless as Commander Taggart…he has Shatner’s strut and swagger down to a tee. In a memorable turn, Sigourney Weaver plays Lt. Tawny Madison, the communications officer who relays orders to the crew by repeating, verbatim, everything Taggart says…it’s her one job and she does it well. Tony Shaloub is absolutely hilarious as the incompetent engineer, Tech Sergeant Chen, and Sam Rockwell’s character, a no-name security officer who was killed off in Episode #81, is an obvious poke at Star Trek’s predilection for hurling red-shirted crewmen into harm’s way. Alan Rickman, as the Spock-like alien, Dr. Lazarus, paints the perfect picture of a once-serious actor who’s been typecast by legions of fans who clamor for him to recite his famous line: “By Gramthar’s Hammer…You Shall Be Avenged!” An exaggerated look at fandom and sci-fi conventions, Galaxy Quest features colorful characters, witty dialogue and excellent special effects: this is one exciting romp through outer space.

Rating: 3

Bicentennial Man (PG)

Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Robin Williams
December 1999

Bicentennial Man
is a touching tale, which chronicles the decades-spanning journey of a robot in his quest to become human. Based on a story by Isaac Asimov and played to perfection by Robin Williams, the movie’s only downside is that it runs about twenty minutes too long. Sam Neill, Oliver Platt and Embeth Davidtz contribute excellent supporting performances.

Rating: 2 1/2