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Tuesday, September 02, 2014         

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‘Smurfs’ sequel goes to a dark place

By Peter Hartlaub

San Francisco Chronicle

POSTED:

sony picturesVexy (Christina Ricci), Smurfette (Katy Perry), Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and Hackus (J.B. Smoove) star in "The Smurfs 2."

It's part of a parent's defense mechanism to walk into a "The Smurfs" sequel with low expectations.

You know there will probably be slapstick violence, a retread story and indignities for the human cast members. A Smurf will probably break wind in a bathtub. And at some point during the tired insertion of the word "smurf" as an all-purpose action verb, it will be substituted for a profanity. ("Are you smurfing kidding me?")

‘THE SMURFS 2’
Rated: PG
No stars
Opens Today

But there's a dark and gratuitously negative vibe to "The Smurfs 2" that makes it unfit even for the undiscriminating young movie-goers that made the first one a hit. Save your money and just take your kid in the back yard to pull the wings off flies, or burn ants with a magnifying glass. There's so much torture and suffering in this movie, it starts to feel like "Zero Dark Smurfy."

There was a sporadic wit to the first "The Smurfs," and lead actor Neil Patrick Harris made an honest effort playing live-action foil to the animated Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Clumsy Smurf and friends. For the sequel, Harris seems aggressively disinterested, as if each scene began after he got off the phone chewing out his agent. Worse yet, Harris' character — a bit fussy, but likable in the first film — is written as a full-blown smurf-hole for the sequel. You might start rooting for Gargamel.

(That was a joke. Hank Azaria returns as the Smurf-hating wizard, and is just as ugly and repulsive as the first film, with even more screen time. There is nothing to root for in "The Smurfs 2," other than a box office disaster to prevent a sequel.)

It's hard to decide where to start explaining the plot. There are five writers credited for the screenplay, and it's difficult to imagine any two were ever in the same room at the same time.

In no particular order: Smurfette is kidnapped by two horrible Smurfs called the Naughties; Gargamel plots to take over the world by sucking the life force from the Smurfs; Patrick (Harris) harshly rejects his clownish father-in-law, Victor; Gargamel captures the Smurf rescue team and puts them in cages; Smurfette and the Naughties vandalize a candy store; pretty much everyone in the film brutalizes Azrael the cat.

Gone from the first film is the charm of Smurf Village, which offered a modern spin on the 1980s Hanna-Barbera animated TV show. Gone are the pleasing tributes to Peyo, who created "Les Schtroumpfs" in the 1950s. Gone is the prospect of daylight. At least 90 percent of the sequel seems to be filmed in gloomy basements, darkness and torture chambers.

There are scattered moments when a not-horrible movie peeks through, such as the quick introduction — and quicker exit — of Passive Aggressive Smurf, voiced by Jimmy Kimmel. These scenes are outnumbered 20-to-1 by wince-inducing moments. Example: When Patrick's stepfather is turned into a duck and sets other ducks free from a restaurant, Harris is made to utter the line "What are you, Martin Luther Wing?" Reminder: This film had FIVE SCREENWRITERS.

Ultimately. we must blame the studio, not the filmmakers. "The Smurfs 2" is directed by the guy who made "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and two "Scooby Doo" films, so Sony Pictures Animation knew what it was getting into. That said, "Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" looks like "Rear Window" after watching "The Smurfs 2."

One final complaint, before you face your pleading "Smurfs"-loving child, and decide to see the film anyway. "The Smurfs 2" is filled with many modern updates, including a Facebook page for Azrael the cat, and Nelly Furtado on the soundtrack for the Smurfs to shake their little blue rumps to. But an evil version of Smurfette is portrayed as being a brunette, before she is "saved" and turned by magic into a little blond flirt, who pouts to get what she wants from all the boys in the village.

Pretty smurfed up for a children's movie in 2013. Please let there by an appearance by Gloria Steinem Smurf for the sequel.





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