2 stars (out of four)
Redeemed only by its best voice-over artistes -- Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as a couple of amiable porcupines, refugees from somewhere north of Toronto -- "Over the Hedge" recalls the old war movie cliche about it being "too quiet" out there. As with so many recent computer-animated critter features (this one's on a passable, forgettable par with "Madagascar"), the visual style of "Over the Hedge" is bright and surreally crisp. Too bright. Too crisp. The realism in the action sequences is realistic. Too realistic. The lack of charm and wit in the four-handed screenplay (four credited writers, that is) is acute. Too acute.
Taken from a syndicated comic strip, "Over the Hedge" trades in the collective attraction/repulsion complex many experience when it comes to suburban life. The movie begins with Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling, managing some nice, casually cutting vocal flourishes) and his multi-species pals awakening from hibernation. Time to forage for food. Bammo, there it is, where it wasn't a few months before: a mysterious, endless-looking hedge, separating what's left of the forest from a shiny new housing development.
There's another mystery in the form of RJ the raccoon (Bruce Willis, who never makes much of a case for himself as a voice-over artist). In a plot development that smacks of focus groups, RJ can avoid the murderous wrath of a bear (Nick Nolte, sounding like that mug shot looked) if he collects a bunch of food and delivers it to the bear cave, and soon. To save himself, RJ ingratiates himself with the skeptical Verne and the gang. They storm the suburbs, undergo rivalries and rifts, and learn to work together.
Directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick don't have their hearts in the heartwarming aspects of "Over the Hedge." The story concerns RJ discovering the meaning of family, and everyone of every species except the humans realizing the value of teamwork and how wasteful and unhealthy people are. But the film lays on one overbearing, flatly conceived villain after another. Allison Janney voices the heinous homeowners' association prez. Thomas Haden Church plays the "Verminator," a pest-control baddie. The whole thing has the soul and mechanics of a second-rate R-rated action picture, toned down for the target audience.
Plus -- and it's a big plus, meaning it's a big minus -- "Over the Hedge" doesn't look like anything special. This is the bugaboo with computer animation: It's easier and cheaper and more in vogue than the old stuff, but it's harder to invest with real pictorial personality. The critters and the humans here resemble metallic, robotic alternate-universe images of animals and people. Even with Levy and O'Hara and Shandling adding what they can, you can only enjoy the voices behind the critters so much when the images fall so short.
'Over the Hedge'
Directed by Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick; screenplay by Kirkpatrick, Len Blum, Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton, based on the comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis; edited by John K. Carr; production design by Kathy Altieri; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; songs by Ben Folds; produced by Bonnie Arnold. A DreamWorks release; opens Friday, May 19. Running time: 1:27. MPAA rating: PG (some rude humor and mild comic action).
RJ -- Bruce Willis
Verne -- Garry Shandling
Hammy -- Steve Carell
Stella -- Wanda Sykes
Ozzie -- William Shatner
Penny -- Catherine O'Hara
Lou -- Eugene Levy
The Verminator -- Thomas Haden ChurchCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times