9/27/05 Edition

STEWIE's Story Told!

Andy Reviews The Eagerly Awaited FAMILY GUY MOVIE

If you’re a regular Aisle Seat reader you know that I’ve always been a big fan of “Family Guy,” Seth MacFarlane’s ribald, hilarious Fox series that garnered on DVD the popularity that it never attained during its initial broadcast run.

While “Family Guy” has finally become a smash hit on the airwaves, there was a time -- following its initial cancellation -- when it appeared as if all fans would receive were new Cartoon Network episodes (Fox wisely retained the shows for themselves) and a direct-to-video movie.

That film, FAMILY GUY PRESENTS STEWIE GRIFFIN: THE UNTOLD STORY (83 mins., Fox), arrives this week on video with all kinds of fanfare, though most fans are likely to be moderately disappointed by the project.

Here, Stewie -- the highly intellectual, slightly homicidal and somehow still loveable toddler son of Peter and Lois Griffin -- sets out on a cross-country trip to find who he believes is his REAL father. Along with Brian the Dog and neighbor Quagmire, Stewie’s mission is clear: if he can meet his actual parents, perhaps his innermost desires to off Lois and plot world domination in general will cease.

Framed by an introduction and epilogue that appear to have been added to pad the running time to 88 minutes, this three-episode “film” actually represents some of the weakest writing you’ll ever see on the otherwise consistently funny series. Sure, there are some patented Family Guy gags throughout -- most notably a bright finale that re-stages the climactic moments of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” -- but any typical, 20-minute single episode of the series yields a higher laugh quotient than this “feature” installment. 

Perhaps by the time “The Untold Story” went into production, most of the staff’s energy was already being poured into revitalizing the series itself. Regardless of the reason, however, this drawn-out production won’t be the place to indoctrinate newcomers to the show, and likely will rank only as a rental at best for most “Family Guy” aficionados.

Fox’s DVD offers a fun commentary with MacFarlane and other writers of the show, along with an “uncensored” audio track that offers less than a handful of f-bombs. Bonus features are limited to roughly 10 minutes of animatic mock-ups, presented alongside animation from the final version of the film (curiously, deleted scenes promised in an earlier PR release didn’t materialize here, and MacFarlane notes the commentary had to be re-done with a smaller group because it was too loud and raucous the first time out). The full-screen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are both satisfying, sporting a boisterous score by Ron Jones.

Also New From Fox

FEVER PITCH (**, 2005). 103 mins., PG-13, Fox. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by the Farrelly Brothers; 13 Deleted Scenes; Gag Reel; Featurettes; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, last fall’s improbable Sox run to the World Series Championship -- their first since 1918 -- will forever live as one of the great comebacks in sports history. But for those who live in New England or carry “Red Sox Nation” with them throughout the world, it was even more than that: the Sox are part of the local landscape here, with games, players and moments (with, needless to say, many heartbreaking ones) firmly entrenched in the region’s folklore. How the Red Sox came back and defeated the dreaded Yankees is one of those events that, to a Red Sox fan, you keep pinching yourself over -- making sure that, yes, they really DID win! (And it’s quite possible we’ll have to live off that win for a while based on their sagging performance in the last few days...)

The Farrelly Brothers’ movie “Fever Pitch” ran smack-dab into the Sox’ championship quest last fall. The real life drama on the field necessitated that the duo re-write the Lowell Ganz-Babaloo Mandel script to match the actual reversing of the ages-old “Curse of the Bambino” that some claimed haunted the Sox since Babe Ruth was traded to the Yanks shortly after the ‘18 season.

Despite all kinds of buzz about the movie and the feel-good karma spread by the Sox (to virtually all sports fans except Yankee and Cardinal boosters), “Fever Pitch” met with only lukewarm box-office receipts and so-so reviews last spring -- surprising since the Farrelly boys seemed to have everything going in their favor with the project.

In yet another role that won’t endear him to the non-Saturday Night Live viewing public, Jimmy Fallon struggles to find the right tone as a Boston schoolteacher who falls for harried businesswoman Drew Barrymore. He’s easy-going and the right match for her manic schedule, but that’s only because it’s the off-season. See, Fallon is also a Red Sox fan -- a really, really, really devoted Sox fan, who doesn’t miss a home game and soon finds himself torn between his newfound girlfriend and his obsession with Fenway Park.

“Fever Pitch” is a film all too typical of the Farrelly Bros.’ recent output: disjointed and with no dramatic center, the movie serves up a bland “date flick” with little tension and zero side characters of any note (JoBeth Williams, James B. Sikking, Lenny Clarke, and Ione Skye are just a few of the completely wasted supporting cast members). The Ganz-Mandel script is surprisingly light on laughs, and the dramatic weight of Nick Hornby’s original novel (previously adapted in a 1997 British version with Colin Firth) is almost entirely diluted by the Farrellys, who instead opt for “big” moments to occur either in musical montages or off-screen altogether. Barrymore and Fallon never connect enough so that you believe their relationship by the time his Sox-addiction rears itself, and how the scenario plays out thereafter is -- to put it mildly -- less than convincing. What’s more, the Red Sox and their magical run of 2004 are nothing more than backdrops for the central story, with some game footage thrown in at the end to placate the masses -- most of whom ultimately preferred going to the Park instead of the multiplex.

Fox’s Red Sox “Curse Reversed” Special Edition offers an apparently extended finale “for Sox fans,” yet I couldn’t discern much difference between this and the theatrical cut (both run just about 103 minutes). Of more substance are some 13 deleted scenes, totaling nearly 38 minutes. While most of these sequences are throwaways (Johnny Damon, Jason Veritek and Trot Nixon actually speak!), they also show how much the Farrellys attempted to “shape” the film in the editing room (ultimately to no avail). Additional outtakes and two featurettes (“Break the Curse” and a Fox Movie Channel clip) round out the package, which also includes a commentary by the filmmakers and the original trailer. The 2.35 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both superb.

“Fever Pitch” isn’t a bad movie but it’s so lightweight and forgettable that -- minus its connection with the Red Sox -- I can’t imagine it would have drummed up even the modest box-office that it did. The Farrelly Brothers have, sadly, once again shown that they’re less than adept storytellers, since one could see a veteran director shaping a film that could have been funny, sexy, and possibly even moving out of this material (the notion that Fallon’s family IS the Sox and the fans surrounding him at the game is virtually forgotten by film’s end). Instead, “Fever Pitch” strikes out on all three fronts, ranking as a rental at best for die-hard genre fans and baseball buffs without a playoff game on the nightly viewing slate.

ROBOTS (***, 2005). 89 mins., PG, Fox. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentaries; Deleted Scenes; Character demos; Blue Man Group featurette; Xbox game demo; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

Amazing visuals and an engaging story make “Robots” another winner for Blue Sky Studios, which first struck gold with their 2002 smash hit “Ice Age.”

The story, credited to David Lindsay-Abaire and the team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, offers a standard tale of a young robot named Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) who leaves his parents and heads for the big city. There, he hopes to convince a Wizard-like inventor (voiced by Mel Brooks) to produce some of his zany creations -- but a scheming ‘bot (performed by Greg Kinnear) stands in his way, hoping to further “progress” by replacing standard robot designs with brand-spanking new parts that all basically look identical.

Designed by William Joyce, engagingly scored by John Powell, and backed by vivid colors, “Robots” is a great deal of fun for viewers of all ages. Director Chris Wedge and his Blue Sky team have created a marvelous looking world with rich technical detail: these robots appear like veritable live-action creations in a candy-coated animated world, with unprecedented depth and clarity to their design and movement. On a visceral level alone “Robots” is well worth seeing, and while the somewhat routine story is padded out by a few too many chase sequences, this is a thoroughly entertaining movie that ought to captivate kids and most adults alike.

Fox’s Widescreen Edition DVD offers a strong though not sensational 1.85 transfer: there’s a bit of that “edge enhancement” around background objects from time to time...not enough to substantially mar the presentation, but it does detract just the slightest from the immaculate visual design of the film. The 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are elaborately executed with sound effects, pop tunes and Powell’s spirited score filling your speakers.

Supplements are also in abundance here: Chris Wedge and William Joyce team up for an interesting audio commentary while a secondary track (more technical in nature) includes a chat with members of the Blue Sky team. Roughly 10 minutes of deleted scenes are on-hand with a “Robots” demo reel, a new five-minute short, and several featurettes related to the ‘bots (and aimed more or less at the younger set). A playable demo of the Xbox game, DVD-ROM high-definition clips and a quick look at the upcoming “Ice Age 2" round out the disc. Recommended!

A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN (***, 1967, 91 mins., PG; Fox): It doesn’t get a whole lot more “Sixties” than Fox’s swingin’ comedy classic with Walter Matthau as a guy, married to gorgeous Inger Stevens, who is quickly tutored in the ways of cheating by pal Robert Morse. No, this isn’t a sci-fi movie -- although, as Leonard Maltin once pointed out, you have to wonder why Matthau would even consider adulterous behavior with a wife like Inger at home! Frank Tarloff’s novel (adapted by the author for the screen) was directed by Gene Kelly, spiced up by countless cameos (Jack Benny, Sid Ceasar, Art Carney, Jayne Mansfield, Carl Reiner, Phil Silvers, Lucille Ball among them), and polished off by a groovy Johnny Williams score -- complete with the infectious title song performed by The Turtles (which, coincidentally, you can still pick up at our FSM store!). It’s all lighthearted fun not intended to be taken seriously (if you do so the movie is dated to a fault), and Fox’s DVD offers an essential 2.35 transfer that preserves the movie’s wide Panavision frame. The 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound is okay (the original mono track is also included, with little difference in fidelity between them), the theatrical trailer is on-hand, and a horribly cropped pan-and-scan version is presented on the disc’s flip side.

Also New on DVD

THE LONGEST YARD (**, 2005). 113 mins., PG-13, Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making Of featurettes; Deleted Scenes with Commentary; Music Video; Outtakes; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Disappointing, watered-down remake of the seminal ‘70s gridiron classic stars Adam Sandler as a washed-up, ex-NFL star who ends up in the big house after recklessly driving around with (unbilled) girlfriend Courtney Cox’s car. Sandler’s Paul Crewe is quickly introduced to warden James Cromwell, who convinces Crewe that it’s in his best interest to put a team together to take on the in-house guards before their tough, penal system football league starts up.

Undaunted by the challenge, Crewe quickly whips a rag-tag group of tough guys, losers, and wannabes into a formidable Mean Machine, helped out by fellow inmate Chris Rock and a sage former coach (Burt Reynolds) with a few tricks up his sleeve.

The original “Longest Yard” was a gritty, exciting mix of violent sports action and comedy, but the remake has been dumbed-down into a typical Sandler vehicle. Though the star gives an effectively modulated performance, the movie has all the hallmarks of a Sandler comedy: wacky supporting performances (appearances by Cloris Leachman and Sandler stalwart Rob Schneider), slapstick comedy and a general assortment of media tie-ins as improbable as possible given the scenario (Chris Berman, anyone?). All ultimately detract from the central hook of Tracy Keenan Wynn’s original story, making for a formulaic effort without any of the bite of its predecessor. It’s watchable but never compelling and quickly forgotten.

Paramount’s Special Edition DVD offers several Making Of featurettes profiling the production of the film, “Extra Points” and deleted scenes with commentary by director Peter Segal, co-star Nelly’s “Errtime” music video, outtakes and more. The 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both appropriately bombastic.

New From Disney

THE PARENT TRAP/PARENT TRAP II Double Feature (1961-1986, 129 and 81 mins., Disney): Affordable pairing of the “Parent Trap” Special Edition DVD with the debut of the 1986 made-for-cable sequel “Parent Trap II.” The latter offers Hayley Mills reprising her role as the now-grown twins in an okay telefilm directed by “Gettysburg”’s Ronald F. Maxwell. The “Parent Trap” offers all the superb supplements from its deluxe DVD (including 16:9 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound), while “Parent Trap II” receives a basic, full-screen, 2.0 Dolby Digital presentation, in keeping with its small-screen origins.

THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL 3-D (**½, 2005, 93 mins., PG; Dimension/Buena Vista): Robert Rodriguez’s latest frenetic concoction for kids was apparently based on a story his son “Racer Max” thought up. The result is a loud, wild Rodriguez-ian ride packed to the gills with special effects and action, but (as always) not enough story to sustain 93 minutes. What’s more: the movie’s 3-D effects are presented in the old-fashioned red-and-blue format on DVD, diluting most of their impact. Still, undemanding kids will likely enjoy the action and effects, which Dimension has included on DVD along with a standard 2-D version (both in 16:9, 1.85 widescreen), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a “Creating With Racer Max” featurette, and a commentary with Rodriguez. Better than “Spy Kids 3-D”, though it doesn’t say a whole lot...

THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET (1997, 93 mins.; Miramax/Buena Vista): Edith Nesbit children’s novel becomes an entertaining British-TV production reaching video for the first time on this side of the Atlantic. David Suchet performs the voice of the golden Phoenix, who awakens out of hibernation, befriends four children and quickly sets out on a series of adventures with the youngsters. Miramax’s DVD offers an adequate full-screen transfer with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

SHARKS, FLIPPER & LOPAKA (2001, 194 mins.; Miramax/Buena Vista): Animated series from Down Under and producer Yoram Gross. Lopaka is a native boy who befriends everyone’s favorite dolphin and sets out with Flipper on a series of underwater adventures. Among the latter is a giant octopus named Dexter who looks like something right out of “The Little Mermaid” and his shark minions, who operate as the tentacled one’s mafia. Adequately drawn and straightforward in its execution, this is passable entertainment for very young children, and Buena Vista’s DVD offers substantial bang for your buck: over three-hours (eight full episodes) of the show in satisfying full-screen transfers with Dolby Digital sound.

DISNEY SING-ALONG SONGS (4 Volumes, aprx. 30 mins. each; Disney): Disney’s latest round of Sing-Along songs offer four-themed collections: “Campout,” “It’s a Small World,” “Beach Party,” and “Flik’s Musical Adventure.” Shot at Disney World and Disneyland, these are entertaining discs aimed at kids, with a nice mix of pop tunes (“Celebration”), old favorites (“Surfin’ Safari”) and Disney classics (“A Pirate’s Life,” “Grim Grinning Ghosts”).

HUGO THE MOVIE STAR (69 mins., Miramax/Buena Vista): Aussie animated star debuts in the U.S. in this DVD, sporting “Hugo the Movie Star” and a bonus movie, “Go Hugo Go.” Like “Lopaka and Flipper” above, these imports are being issued as part of Disney’s clean-out of properties sitting on the Miramax shelves (a contract which expires at the end of this month).

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