There’s not enough sting — and just enough Sting — in “Bee Movie,” Jerry Seinfeld’s animated attempt to reposition the sitcom king as a movie star. The gazillionth movie in recent years to present the anthropomorphic adventures of bugs, fish, cars, robots, etc., this comedy provides sporadic chuckles but, you’ll pardon the expression, drones on for much of its running time.
If you’re going to set a movie in a specific world, then it makes sense to have the story unfold logically within that world. A father swims the oceans to find his lost son? That works. An orphan girl teaches an alien about the importance of family? No problem. A talking bee falls in love with a human woman and sues the entire human race over the theft of honey? Now we have script issues.
That is, however, the plot of “Bee Movie” — Barry (voiced by Seinfeld) frets about being stuck in the same job for the rest of his life. When he flies out of the hive one day with the macho “pollen jockeys,” however, his eyes are opened to the majesty of the outside world. Defying the bee law that forbids the insects from speaking to humans, Barry become smitten with florist Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). (And yes, the movie only barely touches on the walloping logistical difficulties of this relationship. But we’re not supposed to notice.)
When Barry discovers that “stolen” honey is sold and consumed in massive quantities to and by humans — including a Ray Liotta signature brand, one of the film’s few mildly amusing running gags — he finds his calling in life, becoming a lawyer and taking mankind to court for putting bees in grim work camps (in a sequence that might be called “Schindler’s Bee List”) and stealing the fruits of their labor.
If kids are supposed to be the primary audience of “Bee Movie,” did Seinfeld really think a young audience was going to respond to a story about litigation and inter-species romance? And if we take kids out of the equation — since animated films don’t necessarily have to be aimed at tots — why isn’t “Bee Movie” sharper, funnier?
Every so often there’s a joke that elicits a “huh-HUH,” but there’s nothing to make your sides ache. Seinfeld may be one of the founding fathers of modern observational comedy, but if this film is any indication, the writers over at Pixar have completely overtaken him at his own game.
It is showbiz legend that a “Seinfeld” curse took down the cast’s attempts at immediate follow-ups — R.I.P. “Bob Patterson,” “Watching Ellie” and “The Michael Richards Show” — and maybe Seinfeld himself thought that sacrificing his little-seen documentary “Comedian” to the showbiz gods a few years ago would exempt him from it. “Bee Movie” seems to indicate that the curse hasn’t quite yet run its course.