Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)

In this morning’s movie, we see the Mona Lisa

…and we see Shaggy and Scooby dressing down Matthew Lillard for his impersonation, so you just might think I arrange these TV shows and features so our wonderful kid would appreciate some of the jokes in this excellent and hilarious movie a little more. And you’d be right, except I was doomed to fail. The kid laughed so hard over the sight gags that I swear he missed every funny thing that the characters were saying, and I don’t know what I was thinking, expecting him to recognize Matthew Lillard after seven whole days had passed. Oh, well.

So I might be a shade disappointed, but our son certainly wasn’t. We watched Looney Tunes: Back in Action and it’s become, yet again, one of the funniest films he’s ever seen. I don’t think anybody was expecting that in 2003. The film was a huge flop, largely because money-making garbage like Space Jam had convinced the world that Warner Brothers had lost every conceivable clue they ever had, and audiences stayed away in droves because Michael Jordan was not one of the star attractions. Oddly, Warner even proved this with one of the special features on our edition: a Duck Dodgers cartoon called Attack of the Drones which does not appear to have a single joke in it. There are five other cartoons made around the same time on the Blu-ray. I don’t plan to ever watch any of them.

But the feature itself was an incredibly pleasant surprise when I took my older kids to see it seventeen years ago. Director Joe Dante, who gave his old pals Dick Miller and Roger Corman cameo parts, created a ridiculous and very, very funny world that draws from so much of popular culture that there’s just no way I could have prepped the kid for every gag in it. This is definitely a film to keep around and prompt your kids to rewatch as they get older. I mean, I’d completely forgotten that among Joan Cusack’s captives and henchmen at Area 52, the Robot Monster’s hanging out in a Mason jar. I remembered that she had a couple of Daleks, Robby the Robot, the thing from This Island Earth and poor old Kevin McCarthy, still in black and white, but I forgot the Robot Monster.

So if you’ve never seen this movie, or if you’ve been avoiding it like the plague because you know how terrible Bugs Bunny cartoons have been since about 1962 and you heard this one is so desperate for contemporary relevance that it features a cameo from a NASCAR celebrity and a gag about Wal-Mart, I promise it’s a million times funnier than it has any right or reason to be. The plot concerns an aspiring stuntman played by Brendan Fraser and a Warner Brothers executive played by Jenna Elfman on a globetrotting search for Timothy Dalton, who is an incredible superspy who poses as an actor who makes superspy movies. Bugs and Daffy come along for the mayhem, while the supervillain in charge of Acme sends an army of animated henchmen to stop them.

Actually, the only thing about this movie that has never worked for me is Steve Martin’s portrayal of the Acme supervillain. The movie stops dead almost every time Steve Martin is onscreen. This is the only movie that you can conceivably say that about, so I guess it’s notable for that as well.

Everybody avoided this film in theaters, and they all missed out. The kid loved it, and he’ll appreciate it more and more as he gets older and the references make more sense. My favorite bits probably include the Georges Seurat sequence, Area 52, the spy car running out of gas, and Bugs getting Marvin the Martian to roll down his space rocket’s window.

But I’ll tell you what’s the best thing about this movie and its world. It’s not the idea that there are twelve or thirteen Damian Drake movies that are probably really entertaining, and it’s not that all the cartoon characters are, Roger Rabbit-like, able to interact with humans, it’s that in this world, Joe Dante established that Roger Corman directs Batman movies. Can I please jump into this picture and watch one of those, Joe?

What We’re Not Watching: Doom Patrol

We’re not watching Doom Patrol for the blog, because this is a family-friendly blog and Doom Patrol is a quite fantastically family unfriendly show. But over the last few weeks, after our eight year-old has gone to bed, we’ve been enjoying the daylights out of it. It may have more four-letter-words, gore, and nudity than anything else we watch – mainly four-letter-words – but it’s pretty honest. If I were in the sort of situations these heroes face, I’d swear about like they do, too.

The original Doom Patrol series was published by DC in the sixties. It was written by Arnold Drake and drawn by Bruno Premiani. DC has revived it several times since, never to any earthshattering sales numbers, but Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s run, from 1989-93, has been a cult classic that has inspired and informed almost every subsequent revamp. It’s one of my all-time favorite runs of any American comic, and I honestly can’t think of any long-form run on any DC property that I enjoy more.

So the television series, which is available to stream on the DC Universe service, cherry-picks characters and situations from the books up through Morrison’s run, and gives them a TV twist. It’s full of kisses to the past and addresses the strange way that certain funnybook characters never seem to age. Timothy Dalton plays a mad scientist who has brought a group of misfits together over the course of several decades. Matt Bomer is a former USAF pilot who had a freak accident in the upper atmosphere, April Bowlby a glamorous fifties film star whose body shifts and blobs and morphs when she isn’t concentrating, and Diane Guerrero is a badly-damaged young woman with multiple personality disorder, only each of these fractious personalities comes with its own power.

And then there’s Cliff Steele, a former race car driver who’s now a brain in a should-be indestructible, clanky robot. Cliff is voiced by Brendan Fraser, who occasionally appears in the flashbacks, some of which are hysterical. The story goes that at the height of his eighties fame, Cliff appeared as himself on a soap opera. The characters dig up that clip online, all washed-out colors and bad tracking, and we can enjoy the all-too brief spectacle of Brendan Fraser playing a character who cannot act. At all.

For a show full of very dark character beats, high stakes, and ugly surprises, Doom Patrol is also amazingly funny. They did a great job balancing the humor, because otherwise this would be a pretty painful show. But it’s so deliciously weird that it’s worth coming back to, because stuff happens in Doom Patrol that doesn’t happen anywhere else. After Dalton is kidnapped by a reality-altering supervillain played by Alan Tudyk – who knows he’s in a TV show and wishes that he was in a better one – an up-and-coming “real” superhero, Cyborg, played by Joivan Wade, arrives to help whip our four oddballs into a fighting force. But Cyborg. who’s used to beating up muggers, didn’t count on the sort of incredibly strange obstacles and situations these four deal with. Phil Morris has a recurring role as Cyborg’s father; always nice to see Phil on TV.

Anyway, the show’s a huge pleasure from start to finish. It really captures the beautiful oddness of Morrison’s run, adapting some incidents – not slavishly – and finding quirky and weird takes on the sort of situations that he might have written in his wonderful series. Diane Guerrero is absolutely captivating in a role that should be barely sympathetic, and Tudyk is having more fun than the law should allow as a villain who is way above these misfits’ weight class.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of chatter about Doom Patrol, and I think only one of my pals watched it (he loved it, happily). But don’t let the show’s low profile prompt you to overlook it! If you’re in the market for fifteen incredibly fun and freaky hours, then DC Universe is definitely worth the subscription for this show. I hope we’ll hear word about a second season in the near future.

We’re going to take a TV break for a few days, but we’ll be back with a classic movie this weekend. See you then!