Daffy Duck is sick and tired of his career. He gets bashed, smashed, burned, bludgeoned, blown up, shot—and for what?! He suffers all the pain and ignominy while that dastardly Bugs Bunny gets the acclaim and laughs. And all the rabbit does is munch on a carrot!!! Fed up, Daffy airs his complaints to the Warner Bros. brass and, for his efforts, is promptly fired by the Vice President of Comedy, Kate Houghton. But the irate waterfowl isn’t going to take that laying down. He leads the security guard who is supposed to “escort” him from the premises—one DJ Drake—on a wild duck chase that destroys half the studio and gets DJ fired as well. Dejected and despondent, DJ trudges home, unaware that Daffy (who has taken the phrase “misery loves company” to heart) is stowed away in his backpack.
Cut back to Warner Bros. where all is not copacetic. It seems the Bugs and Daffy cartoons just don’t work without Daffy. Kate is given an ultimatum—get Daffy back ASAP or you’re toast. So she trots over to DJ’s place to ask if he knows the whereabouts of the aforementioned duck, only to discover that the former security guard is gone. It seems that he and Daffy have taken off for Las Vegas in order to rescue DJ’s father, the dashing actor and secret agent Damien Drake, who has been kidnapped by the diabolical Mr. Chairman, head of the equally diabolical Acme Corporation (who, incidentally, wants to transform everyone in the world into monkeys). Buckle your seatbelts, hold on to your popcorn, abandon any sense of narrative logic and get ready for a wild ride featuring nearly every Looney Tunes character the WB animators could remember how to draw.
Most of the movie is sheer silliness, but a few noteworthy lessons emerge. A hard worker, DJ refuses to ride his famous actor father’s coattails into a cushy job, but instead prefers to labor for what he gets. That doesn’t mean he despises his pop, though. He displays a great love for his father, risking life and limb to rescue him. Damien also expresses pride in his son’s accomplishments. Refreshingly playful jabs at huge Hollywood egos subtly remind viewers to be humble.
A mysterious diamond is said to have the “supernatural” power to transform people into monkeys. Daffy complains that he has been cheated “by the gods.”
The most disappointing sexual moment comes courtesy of a lounge singer-cum-secret assassin who slinks around in a cleavage-baring cat suit and cancan costume. While discussing script options, Bugs zips into character as a buxom “lady” bunny and tells Kate that he “usually plays the female”; she replies that while his “cross-dressing” was once cute, it’s now “disturbing.” When Kate and DJ hold an X-Ray Viewer over The Mona Lisa, the grand dame is briefly seen in a modest bra. While waxing eloquent on the exciting life of a secret agent, Daffy mentions “exploding bikinis.” Mr. Chairman offers a passionate kiss to a less-than-comely associate. Kate sports a number of somewhat revealing outfits. A pair of “rocket pants” tear off DJ when ignited, leaving him clad in a pair of boxers.
Broad physical humor has been the name of the Looney Tunes game for decades and—predictably—such mayhem takes center stage as the gang goes Back in Action. Fortunately (despite its mix-in of live action), the violence remains relentlessly cartoonish. Poor Daffy endures nearly every kind of torment imaginable (he has his eyes accidentally knocked out of his head, gets punched repeatedly by DJ, is smashed by a cannonball and blown up by a jetpack, has his head severed by a laser, ends up riddled with darts and is reduced to a puddle of black goo).
An aspiring stunt man, DJ tumbles off several high balconies, only to ignominiously crash to the floor. An out-of-control Batmobile demolishes the Warner Bros. Water tower, flooding the studio. Sylvester accidentally gets his tail chopped off by a pair of garden shears. DJ’s dad fends off bad guys with kicks, punches and a grenade. DJ brawls with Yosemite Sam and his cronies, then leads them on a chase through Las Vegas that involves speeding cars and dynamite. Wile E. Coyote gets blown up by an Acme missile. A crawling alien brain latches onto DJ and is then hurled across the room. Kate plummets off the Eiffel Tower, only to be saved in the nick of time by a resourceful DJ. Damien is wired to a torture device that causes him to smack himself in the forehead. Various characters are zapped by disintegration beams (they’re not hurt, just a little scrambled). A man is threatened with imminent death by a speeding train and scads of TNT. In an ironic scene, DJ punches an arrogant, self-absorbed Brendan Frasier who has claimed all of DJ’s theatrical accomplishments as his own.
Next to none. God’s name is abused once. A number of mild—tempting-for-young-children-to-repeat—crudities (“butt,” “rump,” “darn” and “stupid”) crop up.
When a super-advanced spy car pours Bugs a carrot-garnished martini, he intones, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” (he is interrupted before he can indulge). Daffy uncorks a bottle of champagne.
A number of creepy aliens that the crew stumble across in Area 52 might frighten young children. The Tazmanian Devil breaks wind.
Confessions of a slightly jaded film critic: I was less than excited when I learned I’d be reviewing Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Most cinematic blends of live action and animation—to my mind—are nothing more than uncreative lures used to yank hard-earned cash from parents, then subject them to ham-fisted dialogue (skimpily delivered by disinterested actors) while their kids laugh uproariously at mindless slapstick. I was relieved when I realized that this one wasn’t going to fit too tightly in that mold.
While Back in Action isn’t the Citizen Kane of animated fare (its lines are often awkward, the plot barely holds together and Steve Martin’s performance is so over-the-top it descends into self-parody), it makes up for its creative shortcomings by offering utterly hilarious cultural parodies. Sly riffs abound on everything from Hollywood nepotism, political correctness, Afrocentrism and the absurdities of corporate culture, to Star Wars, Finding Nemo, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, Lost in Space, Brendan Fraser’s theatrical career and Michael Jordan. (Imagine the wittiness of a VeggieTales video times 10.)
So, it’s not cinematic deficiencies that smudge this Looney adventure, it’s the handful of sexual references (along with some slinky outfits), a few scary extraterrestrials and a number of mild crudities that push it out of bounds for young children. Parents, take note: Back in Action doesn’t paint outside the lines as much as, say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but your tiny ones will do better with Bugs and Daffy’s classic exploits.