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August 15, 2006 |

By Daniel Carlson | Film | August 15, 2006 |

I walked out.

OK, so I guess you deserve a little more than that. Fine. Let’s do this.

It’s a sad truth that American comedy — specifically, popular American comedians — has a pretty short half-life. Late-night cable is strewn with the detritus of once-great, or at least once-popular, entertainers who enjoyed a run at the top of the box office only to fade into sad obsolescence. Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy: These names used to mean something. These used to be cutting-edge comics with a gift for satire and a fresh perspective that brought new attention to stand-up comedy and who used their success to make some decent films. But in recent years, they’ve been reduced to, respectively, RV, The Pink Panther, and The Haunted Mansion. It’s more than enough to make you wonder if, instead of losing their touch, these guys ever had a touch to lose.

I had time to reflect on all this and more as I gamely struggled through the trailers before Zoom, starring Tim Allen and Chevy Chase, two actors who have definitely seen better days. Prior to the feature, I was treated (well, “subjected” is probably more accurate) to the preview for The Santa Clause 3, the latest installment in the series starring Allen as Santa Claus. (The new film will also feature Martin Short, who, aside from an entertaining appearance a while ago on “Arrested Development,” is another member of the sad fraternity of failed comic actors.) The weird thing about it is that for a while there, Allen pretty much had it all: The Santa Clause was a major hit and would go on to become the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1994; “Home Improvement” was a home run for ABC; and his book, Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, was a best-seller. But Zoom is a painful reminder that a decade is plenty of time to fall from the limelight, and fall hard.

Zoom is, among many other things, a stupid, bland, static, uninvolving, humorless, soporific kids’ movie. I was surprised upon exiting to realize I’d made it through only an hour of the film; it felt closer to five, as if perhaps director Peter Hewitt had attempted to make some von Stroheimian nine-hour epic about superhero youngsters. But of course Hewitt, who also brought us Garfield, Tom and Huck, and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, has no such aspirations. The simplistic plot managed to alienate even the kids in the audience, who seemed happier to be eating popcorn and punching each other than paying even the remotest attention to the happenings onscreen.

That plot, such as it is, deals with Jack Shepard (Allen), aka Captain Zoom, the former leader of a team of teen superheroes who were killed fighting their worst enemy, a villain named Concussion (Kevin Zegers). Concussion is also Zoom’s brother and was only turned evil in an unfortunate accident at the hands of the secret government facility that had been training the kids and subjecting them to lethal doses of gamma radiation in order to enhance their inherent superpowers. Now a lonely, bitter mechanic, Zoom is recalled by the government scientists to help train a new batch of kids with special abilities so that they can fight Concussion, who’s apparently about to return after disappearing somewhere for reasons not clearly explained. The prologue, styled like a comic book, tries to cover a lot of expositional ground in a minimum amount of time, so some of the salient details might have gotten lost.

The training facility is run by cranky old Gen. Larraby (Rip Torn), Dr. Grant (Chase), and a clumsy scientist named Marsha (Courteney Cox) who’s idolized Zoom since her childhood and who starts making eyes at him the moment he sets foot in the cheaply designed and vaguely futuristic sciencey bunker place. Zoom, Marsha, and Grant audition and recruit four children for the cause: the 17-year-old Dylan (Michael Cassidy), who can turn himself invisible; 16-year-old Summer (Kate Mara), a general telekinetic; 12-year-old Tucker (Spencer Breslin), an overweight boy who can balloon any part of his body at will; and 6-year-old Cindy (Ryan Newman), who’s freakishly strong. The recruitment montage honors the film’s intended audience by showing us one young boy with powerful farts and another who can blow giant snot bubbles. Thankfully, they don’t make the cut.

Then there are something like 13 training montages, interspersed with brief exchanges that do nothing but drive home the point that every one of these characters is a by-the-book creation meant to fill space and nothing more. Dylan and Summer eventually begin to flirt like horny coeds, and during one of the fighting simulations he “accidentally” pins her, and they look like they’re maybe five seconds away from earning the film a hard R-rating when the simulation ends and everyone goes away happy, creepy sexual subtext be damned. But I’ll bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in yours that they hook up by the end of the film, just as Zoom and Marsha are bound to get together. The couples didn’t have predictable obstacles to overcome, just a set amount of time to kill before they could look deep into each other’s eyes and say just how much they, you know, like each other.

I’m also pretty sure that the kids beat Concussion. This isn’t a sports movie, where you can lose the big game but still learn a valuable lesson about yourself and your teammates. No, this is an action movie for kids, which means that, aside from not really having any action, the good guys will win in a big way. It’s guaranteed. If I had to guess at specifics, I’d say that Cindy throws something heavy at Concussion, Tucker hits him with his gut, Summer makes rocks or something fly at him, and Dylan uses his disappearing skills to confuse him. At some point, Zoom will regain his powers (don’t ask me how he lost them) and join the fight. Then there will be hugs. Then Smash Mouth will play some more music. Roll credits.

Allen does what very little he can with the script from Adam Rifkin (Mouse Hunt, Small Soldiers) and David Berenbaum (The Haunted Mansion, in an unholy bit of karma). But he was much better at playing washed-up and self-loathing in the underrated Galaxy Quest, which actually had intellect and a sense of humor. With Zoom, it just feels like Allen hates himself for being in the movie. Chase, Torn, Cox, and the kids go through the motions and collect their paychecks.

I’ve never walked out of a movie before. If you think it was wrong of me to do so, well, I don’t really care. All I can do is beg those of you with children not to take them to see this film. Just because a movie is safe for kids doesn’t mean it’s good for them, and this film will do them small but permanent harm. Movies like Zoom start to erode a child’s brain over time, eventually leaving them unable to distinguish good films from bad ones. Before long, they’ll stop trying to grow as people and start enjoying things like Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. So please, don’t let my suffering have been in vain. Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.

Give Up. Surrender.

Zoom / Daniel Carlson

Film | August 15, 2006 |

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