“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” is an act of atonement for Brendan Fraser, who makes up for his last cartoon and live-action combo, the awful “Monkeybone,” with a family friendly romp that will appeal to Bugs and Daffy fans of all ages.
It's a tough goal, building a full-length movie out of wisecracks and pratfalls normally confined to cartoon shorts. But director Joe Dante (“Gremlins”) and screenwriter Larry Doyle (“The Simpsons”) manage to maintain a manic pace throughout. And while “Looney Tunes” lapses into stretches where maybe one in four gags actually works, the filmmakers pile them on so feverishly that the clunkers pass largely unnoticed.
Like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Looney Tunes” presents a Hollywood where real showbiz types co-exist with cartoon characters.
The movie opens with a Warner Bros. executives meeting where boastful windbag Daffy Duck is fired by ambitious Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman), the studio’s vice president for comedy (her research shows that while Bugs Bunny has universal star power, Daffy appeals only to “angry fat guys in basements”).
Fraser plays D.J. Drake, an unsuccessful stuntman who loses his job as a Warner security guard after botching Daffy’s eviction from the studio lot.
Duck and wannabe stuntman end up as road buddies on a mission to rescue D.J.’s father, Warner’s super-spy actor Damien Drake (appropriately played by former James Bond Timothy Dalton), from the clutches of the evil Acme Co. boss (Steve Martin).
Bugs and Kate, realizing too late that the screwy rabbit’s schtick doesn’t work without fall guy Daffy, set off in pursuit, tumbling into the chairman’s plot to turn people into monkeys to churn out shoddy Acme products, then convert them back to humans so they can buy the merchandise.
Advancements in visual effects and computer animation make “Looney Tunes” a more dynamic mix of live action and cartoons than Michael Jordan’s 1996 Warner adventure “Space Jam.” The voice work for Bugs, Daffy and other characters also is a step up from “Space Jam,” with better approximations of the late Mel Blanc’s original intonations for the classic old “Looney Tunes” shorts.
“Looney Tunes” piles on cameos both for live-action celebrities and all the key Looney Tunes characters, including Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzalez, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Tweety Bird and Sylvester.
The supporting cast includes Heather Locklear as an undercover ally of Damien’s and Joan Cusack as proprietor of a spy-gadgets lab.
As the stunted schoolboy villain, Martin goes for broke with his wildest and craziest movie role since “The Jerk.”
Fraser and Elfman come off as likably bland heroes who, though they take a backseat to the antics of the animated characters, hurl themselves earnestly into interaction with ’toons. Fraser even does double duty, providing the voice of the Tazmanian Devil.
As for Fraser’s “Monkeybone,” all is forgiven.