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Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only an error to be exposed. -- H.L. Menken

The Rating System

Kex Liked It:
It Sucked:
It Really Sucked:
It Sucked as bad as Eyes Wide Shut:

It Sucked badly enough to bring the world to the brink of apocalypse:


Save The Last Dance

Last Week: Save The Last Dance:

This is one of those stories that could start out: "Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away..." except that what I am telling you happens to be a true story. It was in this galaxy, in fact on this planet and it wasn't all that far away. It was pretty long ago though...back in the latter 70's. I was sitting around one evening late sipping a substance that commonly aids college students (which I was still one) improve their social skills, and watching one of those late night concert shows on TV with my roommates. Rather than performing on the programs live, the bands usually utilized a videotaped performance, or on rare occasions they would provide some short of short film accompanied by the music. You might say we were watching first generation music videos.

Sometime during the course of the particular show I had something of an inspiration. I figured that with the growing trend toward cable television, which was largely still in its infancy, there would be all sorts of opportunites for highly specialized networks. I was nothing if not insightful in those days. Anyway, I suggested to one of my roommates that a cable channel which played nothing but music with similar short films overplaying might be successful.

He quickly trashed the idea. His reasoning was that with the superior sound qualities of stereo FM on the radio, the added feature of music to short films wouldn't be appealing enough to carry an entire network. I tended to trust his opinion on such matters since he was the head of the school's program council and he set up and promoted most of the musical entertainment. Thus it came to pass that someone else would have to invent MTV a couple of years later and reap the billion dollar rewards. How cool would it have been however, to have heard some band recording a song with the lyrics, "I want my, I want my, I want my Kex TV...."

The primary reason I told that story is because the movie I reviewed this week, "Save The Last Dance" is a production of MTV studios, which essentially means that Kex can add another few million dollars in lost royalties to the billions that have piled up in the last two decades. It also reminds us that once upon a time, there was a music network called MTV which specialized in presentation of music videos. I haven't watched MTV in a long time, I don't even have cable, but I hear that you can now watch MTV for days without seeing a music video.

As savy K.A.W. movie review readers have probably already figured out, I am basically tap dancing around the subject of this film primarily because I don't have a lot to say about it. Indeed I have to admit that I didn't see a whole lot of it, because the resident infant was particularly restless this week, and just not really in the mood for a cooperative movie going adventure. As a consequence it was Kex's turn to adminster to the child, especially since I more or less had my arm twisted into going to this movie anyway.

What I did see of it left me with one overriding impression: That I had seen it a least a few dozen times before. The fundamental themes of this film are: Interracial relationships are still frowned upon by many segments of society and often difficult for the participants, gang violence is bad, and you should pursue your dreams and talents. Wow, those folks at MTV are really stretching the envelope with those concepts, aren't they? Leave it to the network that unleashed Beavis and Butthead on the world to rip open the festering boils of society by exploring those issues.

The other thing that I found rather amazing about this film was that there were a dozen or so songs listed in the closing credits. Okay, Kex has seasoned into a grumpy old guy, a fact that I no longer even have to leave home to be reminded of. But I would have guessed that the entire soundtrack consisted of only 3 or 4 numbers. Hey folks, all this hip hop stuff sounds the same to me. I know, I've reached that devastating point in life where I have turned into my parents, but it still all sounds the same to me.

The guess here is that just about everyone under 25 who reads this review is going to email me telling me that the movie was a whole lot better than I thought it was, and everyone over that age is going to avoid seeing it, so I won't be hearing much from that segment of the K.A.W. readership. The bottom line: I didn't dislike the movie, I've just seen it done before, as well, better, and not as well.

There is something else I would like to add here, however, which is a sidebar. I've pledged that if I ever become grand ruler of the world, doors on movie theaters are going to open in, rather than out because you always have your arms full of stuff going in, and generally leave with them empty. I know the fire department would read this with horror, reasoning that the doors should open out in the event of an emergency. Maybe the reasonable compromise is restaurant type doors that swing both ways. OR, theaters could do what the U.A. theaters in downtown Denver do, and just eliminate the doors altogether. Lets face it, they serve no reasonable purpose anyway.

Last Week: Orange County:

I know most of you are dropping in expecting to read a review of Brotherhood of the Wolf. Believe me, you have no idea how badly I wish I were presenting one to you. Unfortunately, the only theater in the Denver area where it was showing was not convienent for me to get to on Friday night, and I didn't want to go to elaborate effort at the time. Now I wish I would have, after viewing Orange County. I really, really wish I would have.

In retrospect, if I would have had any suspicion how awful Orange County was going to turn out to be, I'd have crawled across the Sahara desert buck nekkid to have seen any other movie. I'd have gone to see The Majestic without the slightest reservation over the fact that it was a Jim Carrey flick. After seeing Orange County, Moulin Rouge was starting to look like Gone With The Wind. If 2002 is destined to produce a worse movie, I hope to whatever deities may watch over it that I don't see it.

I knew that I was probably in some serious trouble the minute I walked into the theater and starting observing the group I was going to experience this disaster with. I've haven't been in the company of so many 14 year-olds since I was in junior high myself. There were hair colors in that theater that do not occur in the natural spectrum. And the hairstyles themselves would not adorn the head of any self respecting chimpanzee. Everything was immediately pointing to a bad night at the cinema, and the worst was yet to come: The movie started.

Orange County stars Colin Hanks, who rather quickly proves that the Hanks family will produce only one generation of notable actors. The film is marketed as a Jack Black film, and why this guy is developing such an enthusiastic following is entirely beyond my intellectual reasoning capabilities. His comedic range is apparently limited to looking like an imbecile and puking. Apparently Friday night on fraternity row has become comedy central in 2002.

Colin Hanks is a somewhat mixed up high school student, who's lack of direction in life apparently doesn't affect his popularity. He hangs around with brain dead surfer dudes, but is still class president. He also gets outstanding grades. One evening on the beach, while mourning the drowning of one of his brain dead surfer friends, he uncovers a book buried in the sand. The book is by a popular fiction author who teaches at Stanford, and suddenly his life is transformed.

Hanks decides to become a writer, and pens a story about his life which he sends along to his new favorite author. The story accounts his own life, friends and family. He also wants to attend Stanford to study under his new hero, and he receives the encouragement of his guidance councilor, since his grades and test scores are apparently Stanford quality.

Unfortunately, his guidance Councilor (Lily Tomlin) gets his named mixed up and sends the wrong transcripts to Stanford. That happens because she is over 18, moronic and clueless. In movies like this, everyone over 18 is moronic and clueless. Most of the people in the audience doubtless have no idea who Tomlin is, or how she achieved show business notoriety. Those of us who do could only weep that she would actually stoop to a piece of crap like this.

With his first effort to get into Stanford foiled, Hanks enlists the help of an influential school mate, but his weird family strikes him down. His pathetic, alcoholic mother (Catherine O'Hara) is married to an invalid rich guy who is about 80, because she is too pathetic to try to make it on her own. That is because she is over 18.

Colin's real father (John Lithgow) is no prize either. He is the typical, hard driven, money grubbing clueless weenie. That is also because he is over 18. Hank's brother (Jack Black) is a drugged out idiot who obviously isn't going to accomplish anything in life. So Hanks is unable to impress the people who might get him admitted.

Hanks only alternative is to drive to Stanford and attempt to talk to the dean of admissions (Harold Ramis). But that attempt nearly fails when his brother burns down the admissions building. Just as a footnote here, Ramis looks like he has recently been in a determined fight with father time and gotten his ass kicked. I think he has also taken up permanent residence at Winchells.

Eventually Hank's father and mother reconcile. He then comes through for Hanks, and makes a big donations to rebuild the admissions building, allowing Hanks to attend Stanford. But he decides that he would rather stay in Orange County, on the advice of his hero author (Kevin Kline) whom he met on campus. By the way, the Stanford scenes were filmed at night, so that it wouldn't be so apparent that no part of this film was made in Palo Alto. The movie also features a cameo by Chevy Chase, but he doesn't have to act moronic and clueless because he already is.

Last Week: About Schmidt:

I spent 140 minutes of my precious life on this movie. What did I get as a return on my investment? Effectively, it was a tedious lecture on a bunch of things I've known since I was about 6. A lot of you have learned most of these lessons as well, but I can spare my readers 8 bucks a head and the comparable investment of time with a quick review.

*Nebraska sucks. I'm not referring to the University or the football team thereof this time. No, I'm eluding to the whole state this time. Yes, its a dreary, flat, uninteresting place that produces sufficient insanity in all the people who live there that it apparently never occurs to them to hop in the Chevy and head any direction, since after driving for a few hours, things can only be better.

*Living in Nebraska is the only thing that sucks worse than the state itself. Nebraska has lots of memorials to the brave pioneers who trekked across the state on their way to points west back in the 1800's. Essentially, there were two types of people in those days: Those who passed through Nebraska, and those who stayed where they were because they didn't want to endure severe hardships, like passing through Nebraska. Eventually, after all the good places west of Nebraska filled up, the outcasts from better places east settled there, reluctantly.

You want to know how bad things really suck in Nebraska? The most qualified person they could find to serve in Congress is the former football coach at Nebraska U. At least that won't happen again soon. The current coach just had the first non-winning season in something like 43 years, wiping out any chance he has of getting elected to anything. Well,except possibly guest of honor at the annual "Tar and feather somebody and ride em out of the state on a rail" picnic.

*Traffic is bad in Denver. I know that. I live here. Traffic is a nighmare everyday. Hell, its even pretty bad at 4 o'clock in the morning sometimes. But, getting stuck in the worst traffic jam in the history of the city isn't all that bad. At least you aren't in Nebraska.

*People who live in Denver know traffic is bad. I think I just made that clear. People who live here know it. People who visit here find out. Still, they continue to move here in droves. Why, you might ask? Well, it is a nice place to live; lots to do, mostly pleasant weather, more sunny days than anyplace else in the country...and if you just drove across Nebraska to get here, Colorado can't look like anything other than heaven.

*How to get from I-25 to the neighborhoods south of Capitol Hill. This movie gave explicit instructions on how to navigate that stretch. Those of us who live here know it by heart. We memorize it early in our driving lives just so we won't make any unfortunate mistakes and actually end up down there. And its still better than Nebraska.

What really surprised me about this movie is that the theater was jam-packed with people wanting to see a movie they knew almost nothing about. I saw a lot of trailers for this film over the past few months, and I have to admit that I didn't know Jack about it, pardon the pun. That was actually refreshing in a way. Too often lately, trailers so thoroughly spoil the plot of the movie that I don't even bother to see it. Then again, after you've seen a ten second clip of some horror like Jackass the Movie, how much mystery can remain? You know what? Given the choice between sitting through Jackass the Movie and driving through Nebraska I'd probably, well, um, hmmmm....I'd probably drive through Nebraska...but I'd have to give the choice a lot of thought.

What was this movie about? Jack Nicholson goes pimping for an Oscar nomination playing a man with a dreary life. He drags us through an equally dreary movie to underscore the point. Actually, I did learn one thing watching this movie. Howard Hessman is still alive. True, father time has really beaten the crap out of him since we last saw him on that lame TV show in which he played a teacher of genious students in an inner city high school. The guess here is that unless you are related to Howard Hessman, you are going to be just as surprised to learn he is still around as I was.

I won't really give away anything by sort of telling you how the movie ends. Warren Schmidt (our boy Jack) learns, inspite of the doubts that he has gathered for 140 minutes that his life really is worthwhile. How? Because he is helping a starving orphaned child who has the misfortune of living in the only shithole on the planet that rivals Nebraska.

Schmidt starts sending the child money after he sees one of those weepy commericals that haunt late night TV. You all know the ones I'm talking about. The kind where Sally Struthers waddles onto the screen and cries and whines about their sorry plight. Meanwhile, most of us wonder why Sally just doesn't give up a quarter of her weekly food ration and feed Africa for a year. That might actually accomplish something.

Last Week: Along Came Poly:

And misery followed close behind. John Hamburg is the kind of guy you hope to meet all of your life, especially if you have a propensity for making sure that fools and their money are soon parted. This guy fits the description, and he has it coming. Most of the world would probably stand by and cheer as they watched you do it. In fact, they'd probably be pissed if you didn't invite them to see it.

Just in case you aren't immediately aware who John Hamburg is, he is the writer and director of Along Came Poly. That alone is enough to get a lot of people roused at him, or it would be if a lot of people were apt to see this film. I figure that is reasonably unlikely. But his contributions to the degeneration of culture are even more pronounced.

Hamburg was also the director of another crappy and unappealing comedy a couple of years ago called Meet the Parents. Aside from being numbly awful movies penned and directed by Hamburg, the two films had another significant point in common: Both starred Ben Stiller. Yes folks, this man actually directed Stiller in one bad movie, only to fail to realize that Stiller was a signficant reason why the film was bad. So he selected Ben for the lead in Along Came Poly as well.

This is the kind of man you want to run into if you have a little land in Florida to unload. This is the kind of man who deposits money in banks run by guys named Bush. This is the kind of guy who buys the rights to Peewee's Playhouse figuring that Paul Ruebens is only months away from a really big comeback. This is the kind of guy who was still buying shares of Enron last spring.

Ben Stiller can't act. Ben Stiller isn't funny. If Ben Stiller's dad hadn't made a name for himself as a comic and game show fixture a couple of decades ago, young Benny would be sweeping the back room at K-Mart. Instead, he is starring in movies across from Jennifer Aniston. Sure, the world is a fair place. Maybe Ben's dad has some embarrassing pictures of John Hamburg in a lock box somewhere.

In Along Came Polly, Ben Stiller stretches his comic and acting talents by playing an annoying, obsessive jerk. He is a risk analysist for a major insurance company, who never takes any chances because he keenly understands the numerous dangers lurking around every corner. One wonders how or why the guy ever gets out of bed in the morning.

Somehow or another, he meets a pretty insurance agent, played by Debra Messing. The two get married, providing Alec Baldwin with an opportunity to get a few closeups by giving a toast at the wedding. Baldwin's character in this movie wasn't particularly necessary to the storyline. The guess here is that perhaps the Baldwin brothers have something on Hamburg too. Consequently, Alec got his second opportunity in 3 months to appear in a movie he will deeply regret in a few years; maybe already.

On the honemoon, Ben and wife meet a scuba instructor on the beach. The instructor is portrayed by Hank Azaria, donning a long wig and hacking out a miserable French accent. From all appearances, some sort of competition has been going on between Azaria and Baldwin. I think they were trying to see who could consume the most of a selected substance. In Azaria's case it was steroids, and in Baldwin's it was donuts.

Ben catches his wife romping with the scuba instructor, and he heads for home dejected. But just days later, he meets an old junior high friend, played by Jennifer Anniston. Jennifer is a free spirit and obviously not in the least suited for stuffy Ben, but he falls for her anyway. The comic setup is supposed to be sort of an odd-couple type relationship, but it produces no laughs. We know the relationship has as much chance of succeeding as Azaria has of creating children with his new grape-nut sized, steriod shriveled testicles.

But it all works out, because this is a movie and that is how things work in movies. Especially bad ones. Annoying jerks like Ben end up with hot babes like Jennifer Aniston. But the mystery here is why Aniston keeps aiming so low in chosing her roles and leading men. The last two guys I've seen her fall for onscreen were Stiller and Jim Carrey. Hell, maybe Paul Reubens will make that comeback afterall. All he has to do is find a script with all the charm of finger nails dragging across a chalkboard, and Aniston will come running to be his leading lady.

Last Week: (screwed) Sideways:

If there were any real justice in this world, George W. Bush would have a job that mostly involves use of the phrase, "Would you like fries with that, sir?" All cellphones would be equiped with sensors that would automatically transmit the phone number of anyone receiving a call in a movie theater to everyone else's cell phone at the movie. That way we would all be free to call the offender at our leisure; say, 2 o'clock in the morning. And there would not be an absolute piece of crap movie that gets nominated for every major award in sight every year.

A couple of years ago, it was Moulin Rouge. Last year it was Lost in Translation. This year, let me introduce you to Sideways. This movie has already won a Golden Globe for Best Picture in the comedy/musical category. That just goes to prove what a bunch of absolute morons the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press are. I think most of them are probably from France. Every year they select some absolutely crap movie in one of the Best Picture categories, probably because it makes some of the foreign productions look good by comparison.

What I don't really understand is why members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thought that this movie was even remotely worthy of nomination for their Best Picture Oscar. If this film had been released outside of New York and Los Angeles in 2004 instead of 2005, it would have been a cinch to have made Kex's five worst list. That assumes that I would have bothered to have seen it at all, which isn't a guarantee. I only caved in to include it on my review list because of the hype its getting, which is wildly undeserved.

It certainly isn't unheard of for the AMPAS to include a real stinker on their list of Best Picture nominees. Last year's wildy overrated Lost In Translation comes very quickly to mind. It isn't even all that rare for a pretty bad movie to end up winning the Oscar. But when something truly awful even gets as much consideration and praise as Sideways, its hard not to wonder what the hell is going through the minds of the people doing the nominations. At the very least, you begin to wonder if some bank account padding hasn't been accomplished.

Somehow, the people responsible for this reprehensible piece of trash managed to convince the nominating committees of both the Academy and the Golden Globes that there was something here that doesn't meet the eye. The last time a fallacious P.R. campaign of this magnitude was successfully pulled off, we ended up sending 100,000 troops to Iraq. I can at least understand how the Hollywood Foreign press got duped. Frankly, they have aptly demonstrated over the years that they wouldn't know a good movie if it bit them in the ass.

This is one of those movies where even writing a basic plot summary leaves you scratching your head and wondering why anyone would have remotely considered green-lighting the project. By the time the very first word of dialog was uttered, I knew full well that I was in for a bad afternoon at the movies. Here is Kex's Golden Rule of film watching. If the very first word of dialog in any movie is a four letter expletive that begins with the letter "f," you can pretty much bet the rent that the movie is going to blow like early spring winds in Wyoming.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a middle school teacher who is trying to get his Great American novel published. As close as I could tell, he has two obsessions in life that pretty much occupy all of his time: Tasting fine wine, and feeling sorry for himself. I suppose that his angst is the major attraction of this movie for most of the people who actually end up liking it.

Personally, I don't go to the movies in hope of being introduced to a character that is such a pathetic loser that he could make the guy who scrubs toilets at an Ex-Lax testing facility feel good about his life. Mile's friend, Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) is getting married, and the two decide to go off and have one last best friend wild-week before the wedding. The problem is, Miles is so clueless about forgetting his problems for awhile and enjoying his life that we quickly become certain that he couldn't score in a Tijuanna whore house with Donald Trump's bank account.

Miles and Jack's idea of a good time is touring the California wine country and playing a little golf. Right away, we begin to doubt that this is the strongest plotline ever penned for a buddy comedy film. But Jack rather quicky decides that he is going to expand the agenda of the adventure by getting them both laid as often as possible during the course of the week.

Aside from the fact that it doesn't seem wildly likely that either one of them could find any action in a gay men's prison, a highly unlikely plot twist seems to take things in the right direction. Miles meets a waitress in a town that they visit that he has been acquainted with for some time. She mysteriously has the hots for him. Meanwhile, Jack meets one of her friends in a neighboring town, and they all get together. Jack and his new lady friend have a tryst of wild sex the first night, while Miles bores his lady friend into permanent celebacy with endless dissertions on the qualities, or lack thereof, of certain wines At this point, I was wishing I could just chug down a bottle of Sangria and forget the whole thing.

Maybe there were some inside jokes I was missing here or something. I am certainly no connisseur of wines. As far as I'm concerned, it all tastes like horse piss. So there is nothing remotely interesting to me about hearing some loser drone on about wines for nearly two hours of a 140 minute movie. Nor did watching his friend cheat shamelessly on his soon to be wife hold any appeal for me. I just found this movie tedious and stupid. But I do have one message for the people who made it, as well as anyone who might consider voting for it for Best Picture. All of you know exactly where you can cram this movie... sideways.

Last Week: Nanny McPhee:

The first line of this film is wholly unnecessary: "This story necessarily begins with an empty chair." No. This story began with myriads of empty chairs in theaters all over the United States. That is exactly why it was dispatched to the Bargain theaters about a month after its release.

This is the tale of the wimpiest guy in the history of the universe, Mr. Brown (Colin Farrell), who is left widowed and alone to tend to the 7 most obnoxious spawns of Satan to appear on the silver screen since Village of the Damned. In other words, the first 8 characters we meet in this film are all detestable, which isn't what we would call a promising start.

The children make a hobby of driving away nannies, while dear old dad makes a hobby of feeling sorry for himself and becoming progressively wimpier as the story advances. The only marginally likeable charcter is Mr. Brown's chamber maid, Evangaline (Kelly McDonald). Early on we figure out that somehow or another, Mr Brown and Evangaline will end up together, permitting her to spend the rest of her life emasculating the pathetic little terd into a puddle of useless goo. Its all just a matter of which familiar plot contrivance will be enlisted.

Once the children drive away the last nanny Brown can hire, the mysterious Nanny McPhee appears in their lives. She is a wickedly ugly hag who informs Brown that she has arrived to teach the children five lessons. Its pretty clear from the beginning that the five lessons she is bringing are the wrong ones.

The 5 lessons these junior terrorists really need are:

1. Beatings are unpleasant.

2. Deep abrasions and broken bones are painful, and do not easily heal.

3. Youth boot camps are a bitch.

4. Respect for authority saves a lot of unpleasant facial bruises and painful dental work.

5. And the ever popular..."Fat, drunk and stupid are no way to go through life son..."

Nanny McPhee immediately begins to bring the children under control with magical powers, although we suspect that nuclear weapons would have been more effective. Curiously, every time she succeeds in teaching the children one of her five critical lessons, some hideous aspect of her face disappears, and she starts looking more and more like Emma Thompson.

The movie never explained just why this phenomenon was taking place. My theory was that the makeup department was running out of money, and the producers had to find some way to cheap it out as the budget for this movie dwindled away during shooting. Or maybe Emma Thompson was allergic to the makeup. I guess we will never know.

But there is a complication to the proceedings. Brown's stepmother (Angela Lansbury) is more or less supporting the family with a monthly allowance, and demands that unless he marries within a month, she will cut him off. Evidently his salary as an undertaker is insufficent to support 7 kids, a cook, a nanny and a chambermaid, so he has to desperately start looking for a wife.

Now, its immediately obvious that Brown is a professional failure, as well as a pathetic excuse for a human being. The same corpse is lying in his shop through the whole movie, and he never gets around to burying the poor guy. Its also a bit difficult to figure out why this idiot thinks he can afford a household staff. But if he had hit upon condoms at a younger age, the whole disasterous situation that he finds himself in could have been avoided.

This entire mess does wind its way toward a happy ending, not that we care much. We still don't like the kids, we'd rather beat the crap out of Brown than see him win any happy endings, and we pity Evangaline for getting stuck with him and the Nazi Youth British Den that she is going to have to raise to some sort of adulthood that doesn't involve prison, or crashing airliners into skyscrappers. Further, she doesn't even have a realistic prospect of bringing any of her own children into the world, or so we hope. Clearly, Brown's sperm are never going to flourish into offspring we are happy to welcome into the world.

Personally, I was walked out of the theater longing to see Mary Poppins bitch slapping Nanny McPhee through the streets of London and into the sunset.

Last Week: Shrek the Third:

There is a time honored principle in Hollywood. If you stumble on something that is successful and popular, suck it dry until it is a lifeless, colorless shell. What better way to introduce this week's movie, Shrek the Third. The summber blockbuster season is young, but with the possible exception of next week's third installment of Pirates, this may well be the most anticipated release.

We might as well have been waiting on a slow commuter bus to take us to the dentist. Shrek the Third promises the moon and stars and delivers a penlight with seriously worn batteries. The third time was truely charmless. Hollyood shook the money tree, and what fell out will turn out to be a lot of green, along with all the credibility garnered through two previous films by one green ogre.

In this installment, Shrek (an entirely uninspired Mike Myers) and Fiona (the otherwise long forgotten Cameron Diaz) are back in Far Far Away by the bedside of Fiona's dying father, King Harold (John Cleese). The film isn't ten minutes old, and we are already set up for one of the most tasteless scenes in history of animated cinema.

The passing of Harold will leave Shrek next in line to become King, a job he doesn't want, but prior to croaking (bad pun fully intended), Harold informs Shrek of the second in line, young Arthur (Justin Timberlake, doing a voice over for no other reason than evidently needing a paycheck badly). King Harold then passes on, with a chorus of frogs singing Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die. This was evidently a stab at Pythonesque comedic was just plain inappropriateness.

Shrek sets out on a voyage to find Arthur, along with his two inevitable side-kicks, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). But just prior to departure, Shrek is saddled with a further element of self doubt when Fiona informs him that he is about to be the proud father of a bouncing baby ogre.

Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is plotting to take over Far Far Away in Shrek's absence. Upon Shrek's return, he plans to slay the ogre, in the midst of a grand production very much in the overblown style of Andrew Lloyd Webber. He accomplishes the take over by enlisting the cast of most animated cinema's villan hall of fame. It is up to Fiona and a band of fairy tale princesses to attemp to thwart Charming's plans.

Shrek and company find Arthur, aka Artie, who turns out to be a high school wimp. No problem, Shrek figures it is still better to dump the King gig on him. On the way home, the group encounters the broken down and out of practise Merlin the Magician (Eric Idle, enlisted to further give the film a Monty Python flair, but achieves only yet another level of staleness).

In one of the film's few successful comedic setups, Puss and Donkey accidentally exchange bodies as the result of a Merlin spell gone awry. The gag was funny for a couple minutes, unfortunately, it was permitted to play out through most of the last third of the film. In comedy, timing is everything; the right gag, the right time, and don't overplay your hand.

The first two films were rich in sight gags and cinematic sendups of familiar films. The former was briefly evident in this installment, the latter sadly lacking. If any phrase could appropriately sum up Shrek the Third, "sadly lacking" might fit the bill as well as any. There were some moments that were funny, even inspired, but they were mostly lost in a sea of misfires.

We aren't done with Shrek and company just yet. Installment 4 in the seemingly interminable series is set for release in 2010, and early box office success of this one will likely have the produces hiring on for Shrek 5 before Memorial Day weekend. It's a pity. At this point, I'd just as soon stay as far away from Far Far Away as I can.

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