There are many concepts that work wonderfully in theory: communism, nuclear energy, monkeys in outer space. Sadly, just like their theoretical counterparts, very few successful practical examples exist. With a title like Space Chimps, one assumes a genial farce in which accident prone apes -- opposable thumbs and all -- cause chaos within a high tech setting. Instead, Quest for Camelot scribe Kirk De Micco
(here co-writing and directing) decides to go the big screen blockbuster route. We want simian hijinks. Instead, we're offered staid adventure with messages about courage, self-esteem, and living up to your potential. Boo!
When an expensive space probe goes missing, a surly Senator (voice of Stanley Tucci
) with a key to NASA's funding wants it found. Itís decided that, instead of a manned mission, a trio of chimps will be sent to fetch it. They include the macho Titan (Patrick Warburton
), the level headed Luna (Cheryl Hines
), and in a perfect PR move, the great grandson of the first ape-stronaut ever, Ham III (Andy Samberg
). One wormhole later, our hirsute heroes find themselves on a distant alien planet ruled by the evil dictator Zartog (Jeff Daniels
). He is using the lost Earth satellite to control his unhappy minions. It's up to the primates to find a way of defeating the villain and getting back home before it's too late. Article continues below
Space Chimps is a whiplash reminder of how CGI animation continues to cannibalize itself. Instead of finding new ways to employ the medium -- as in the Shaw brothers-inspired Kung Fu Panda, or the future shock sweetness of WALL-E
-- this derivative big screen babysitter aims low and still manages to underachieve. In fact, this lax cartoon cavalcade avoids most of the format's flaws (stunt voice casting, rampant pop culture riffing) and yet finds a way to be unoriginal. Maybe it's the story, which has all the invention and imagination of Saturday morning TV. And of course, it commits the unconscionable crime of wasting the guilty pleasure possibilities of intergalactic monkeyshines.
Initially, Space Chimps looks like it might buck the trend. We are introduced to Ham III at a surreal circus where misshapen humans add a Dali-esque touch of otherwise absent uniqueness. It's a conceit carried over to the NASA material where the gruff and grumbling Senator has a face that resembles the aftermath of a steam roller accident. From the trio of tech specialists as mainstream notions of geekdom (fatso, Goth gal, Indian) to the members of the press who appear as almost photorealistic, the people presence in this film illustrates its only sense of vision.
The rest is rote. The alien planet is like a Hello Kitty nightmare, Willy Wonka architecture housing creatures resembling iridescent blobs of modeling clay or -- get this -- perfectly formed breasts. That's right, smack dab in the middle of a kid's film is a character named Kilowatt (voiced by Broadway vet Kristin Chenoweth
) who sings opera and glows incandescently when she's scared. But Kilowatt is also a boob, no bones about it. She's a pert, well rounded, flesh-colored mound with what looks like a nipple protruding from the top of her head. While this may be reading too much into what's supposed to be a heroic little imp, prepubescent boys will surely get an anthropomorphized thrill.
It's just too bad that everything else about Space Chimps is so uninspired. It consistently goes for the cheap laughs, mining way too many jokes out of puns, pratfalls, and the occasional reference to poop (these are apes, after all). The adventure is aimless and the feel-good message mired in homogenized hokum. Extraterrestrial monkeys would appear to be an entertainment no-brainer. This movie took that maxim literally.