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The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Directed by Des McAnuff

When Pottsylvanian baddies Boris (Jason Alexander), Natasha (Rene Russo) and Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro, who also produced) transport themselves into the live-action world and put in motion a nefarious scheme to enslave America, the FBI -- as represented by Randy Quaid -- sends a naïve young agent (Piper Perabo) to enlist the aid of Rocky (June Foray) and Bullwinkle (Keith Scott, who, doubling as narrator, also does a passable William Conrad imitation). This involves moose and squirrel becoming 3-D-rendered animated figures in an otherwise live-action landscape.

For the first 20 minutes or so, this updating of the groundbreaking '60s TV series is way better than could have been expected. But not too long after our heroes move into the "real" world, it starts to falter. Stage director Des McAnuff fares no better than scores of filmmakers before him at mixing cartoon action with the real world -- something that has only been done well by Robert Zemeckis in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Although Kenneth Lonergan's script is jammed with wonderfully awful puns and arch self-referential gags that work perfectly in the all-animated opening, the comic pacing grows sluggish and stiff in the real world.

De Niro has precisely one funny bit, based on one of his earlier movies; his part is accurately billed as a supporting role, but the top-billed Alexander and Russo don't get to do much more. The only human being we see much of is the young FBI agent, and although Perabo is doubtless a lovely and talented human being with a promising future, you couldn't tell it by her performance here.

Numerous notables show up for cameos, sometimes so briefly that you'll miss them if you blink: Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Don Novello, Dian Bachar, Billy Crystal, Kenan and Kel, John Goodman, Janeane Garofalo, Phil Proctor, David Alan Grier, James Rebhorn and Norman Lloyd (still a trouper nearly 60 years after Hitchcock tossed him off the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur).

Opens June 30.

 
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