Friday, June 24, 2011

A Reel Review: CARS 2

In making a CARS sequel, Pixar knew that they had to do a few things to avoid repeating themselves; they had to beef up the story, raise the stakes, and move things outside of the confines of Radiator Springs. In CARS 2, all three of those things are done, and done with a lot of enthusiasm. Just to be safe, director John Lasseter and his staff also shifts the main focus from Lightning McQueen to Tow Mater, a move that shakes up the original formula and creates a very jumbled film.

After winning his 4th Piston Cup (which is posthumously renamed after the now deceased Hudson Hornet), Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is challenged by arrogant Italian race car Francesco (John Turturro), to compete in the new World Grand Prix, a series of races across the world where the cars are powered by a new alternative fuel. Now part of the pit crew, Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), falls into an international-spy espionage (mis)adventure with secret agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who are investigating a group of “lemon” automobiles and a mysterious villain who are threatening the existence of cars across the world.

So this film is CARS meets James Bond, right down to a monocled professor, a villain who appears only via TV screens, and a plot to take over the world. While executed with a lot of enthusiasm, the center of the plot goes to Mater. Mater, who doesn’t realize the peril he’s in until very late in the film, becomes Bill Murray in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE. The bumbling buffoon gets most of the screen time and focus, and this is where CARS 2 stumbles. Mater has made a career out of being the comic relief of the original film and a host of shorts, but as the centerpiece, the gags just get old really quick. The entire film feels like an extended short.

With Mater getting all the action, Wilson’s McQueen becomes an extended cameo more than a supporting character. Also pushed to the back are the supporting Cars from Radiator Springs, who pop in and out of the film. In place of them are a gaggle of new characters, who fail to touch upon any sort of emotional draw.

Where the original film was a quaint and warm look at smalltown America looking to teach a nice lesson, CARS 2 shifts into a straight-out action flick. The film is loaded with gunplay, fist (tire) fighting, explosions and character deaths. The sudden change in atmosphere may come as jarring to some parents who are taking the intended core-audience to see it.

Since this is a Pixar film, there is never a shortage of things to look at. The cityscapes of Tokyo, London and Italy are awesome, and the creativity that has gone into the expanding of the universe is equally impressive. Some touches are subtle, and some aren’t; with the Queen Mum and Pope-mobile Cars offering head-shaking giggles.

CARS 2 makes a small attempt to offer a life-lesson in the value of friendship, but it is nearly, if not totally lost in all the chases, booms and bangs. The emotions never produce, leaving things very empty. CARS 2 gets a lot of points for imagination, but little for execution. There is just little to learn from a spy comedy.


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