Screenwriters: Kirk De Micco, Robert Moreland
Starring: Andy Samberg, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Daniels, Patrick Warburton, Kristen Chenoworth
Running Time: 81 mins
Mention the phrase "Space Chimps" to someone and it'll probably conjure up the thought of a low-rent satellite reality show. As horrific as that prospect sounds, it would hold more appeal than this painful new CG kids' film from Fox. If WALL-E marked a step forward for animated cinema, then Space Chimps is an indication of the form in regression. Cheap, quick and not nearly as funny as it thinks it is, it's a dismal 81 minutes of agony.
The story centres on Ham III - a circus performer and grandson of Ham, the first chimpanzee in space - as he's recruited to join a Right Stuff team of astroprimates looking to retrieve a space probe that has slipped into a wormhole. Initially reluctant to embrace his astronaut heritage, Ham is eventually won over by his crewmates Luna (Cheryl Hines) and Titan (Patrick Warburton) after they crash-land on the planet Malgor and unite to free its inhabitants from evil dictator Zartog (Jeff Daniels).
The success of an animated film usually rests on the likeability of its lead character. Space Chimps's implosion is in part down to Andy Samberg's insufferable portrayal of Ham. Whereas Kung Fu Panda survived on the whirlwind brio of Jack Black's Po and WALL-E's warmth and inquisitiveness garnished Pixar's latest, Ham is completely devoid of appeal. The filmmakers' efforts to establish him as a roguishly lovable Han Solo-type fail and he ends up leaning closer to Jar-Jar Binks levels of intolerability.
Ham is described by his crewmates as a liability to the mission; he's also a liability to the film - an arrogant and selfish primate who's impossible to root for. This type of loud-mouthed obnoxious character usually elicits roars of joy when they're bumped off in teen slasher movies. As problematic as the Shrek sequels were, at least the green ogre had a kind mind and soul.
Space Chimps makes half-hearted attempts to reach out and strike a chord with older audiences. Film buffs may recognise mirrors of 2001's pulsating sound and light Star Gate sequence and numerous Right Stuff nods, yet these are tokenistic gestures - not subtle or weaved delicately into the film's fabric, but bludgeoned in for the sake of having them there. A bizarre sequence involving a Freudian "Dark Cloud of the Id" smacks of screenwriters insisting they're too intelligent to be writing movies this bad.
It's assumed that eye-popping visuals are a given in a film like this - Space Chimps proves otherwise. Though the three main astroprimates are expressive enough, there's a lack of technical sophistication in the animation of the supporting characters and background renderings. The sparsity in detail gives the impression that the movie was either rushed to make a fast-approaching release date or, worse, slapped together by filmmakers who didn't really care.
There are no laugh-out-loud moments in Space Chimps - a disastrous sign for any comedy - though it stumbles towards a few quiet chuckles with a playful jab at David Bowie, a pint-sized alien Kilowatt stopping just short of explaining how she escaped from the belly of a beast and a veteran simian astronaut Houston remarking "I picked the wrong day to give up bananas" before stubbing out the fruit in frustration. Yet the incessant use of cringe-worthy puns ("chimp my ride", "let's chimprovise", "you're a chimp off the old block") quickly deflate any chance of roaring laughter.
Ham, the first hominid in space who inspired this movie, will be spinning in his grave at the thought of his legacy being tied with such an abysmal movie. If you sat an infinite number of monkeys in front of computers then, in theory, they would eventually come up with a CG-animated film. The result would be significantly better than Space Chimps.
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