If you’re unfamiliar with the Cartoon Network, or you don’t have cable, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” probably meant nothing to you until a publicity scheme for the cartoon characters backfired (or triumphed?) in Boston in early January.
When images of the characters started appearing in several cities, most law-enforcement departments did little or nothing. But Boston went into full bomb-scare alert, diverting traffic and removing and destroying signs that were presumed to be explosives. Turner Broadcasting finally fessed up to using electronic light boards to promote “Aqua Teen” — and the mid-April arrival of a feature-length theatrical version.
Few movies could live up (or down) to this kind of guerrilla marketing campaign, and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters” — a marquee buster to compare with the full title of “Borat” — fails utterly to justify the fuss. The novice filmmakers demonstrate no apparent storytelling skills, and little understanding of how to transform a modest series of sketches into a feature film.
Like the TV show, the movie focuses on three fast-food items who emerge as distinct characters: Meatwad (voice by Dave Willis), an amiable meat patty designed to be consumed as the filling in a burger; Master Shake (Dana Snyder), a milkshake with a more aggressive manner; and the scene-stealing Frylock (Carey Means), a package of French fries who suggests a bearded, hovering 1950s bohemian.
The script includes jokey references to ancient Egypt, time travel, Batman, David Cronenberg, Phil Collins and Oprah Winfrey, but it never adds up to a coherent explanation of where its heroes came from. Indeed, the filmmakers act as if they’re above all that. A grunge-flavored opening/closing musical number, featuring the refrain, “We got your money,” all but underlines their contempt for the trapped audience.
Willis co-wrote and co-directed the movie with his series partner, Matt Maiellaro, who provides the voice for the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past. Their plot has something to do with this creature and an alien pair who are somehow involved with a deadly piece of exercise equipment that threatens the universe. Fred Armisen provides the voice for a crude version of Abraham Lincoln, and there are other celebrity cameos by Bruce Campbell and Chris Kattan.
Because of the raunchy content (and the crummy, not-ready-for-prime-time animation?), the Cartoon Network quarantines the show in its late-night “adult swim” schedule. The movie’s R-rated dialogue pushes the limits even further. Homophobic insults, poop jokes, vomit jokes and adolescent taunts fill the soundtrack, which frequently substitutes name-dropping for wit.
If you’re a fan of “Family Guy,” “Robot Chicken” or “South Park,” you might be tempted to take a look at this illegitimate offspring. But “Aqua Teen” is consistently pointless and hopelessly derivative (as in “South Park,” a character’s death is not to be taken seriously), and it never finds a way to function as a feature-length narrative.
Before it’s 10 minutes old, you may find your mind wandering. How does a hunk of flesh like Meatwad function as a thinking being? How many flavors can Master Shake generate? Was Frylock ever a freedom fry?