Movie review: ‘Rio’ is a carnival of color, but it never takes flight
With its colorful array of fowl players, “Rio” is definitely for the birds. But the only pigeons lurking among the flock are the humans suckered into paying 3-D prices for a movie that’s flat as a parakeet’s tail. Caveat emptor. Yes, buyer beware.
This, folks, is what is commonly referred to as a rip-off, an inanimate animated movie that counts far too heavily on stupid jokes, racial stereotypes and cheesy popcorn by the Black-Eyed Peas, a “musical” group so grating I can hardly wait ‘til they become the Split Peas.
The plot is practically a lock to excite no one but the lawyers at Pixar, who’ll be in a tizzy over how many of its movies “Rio” pilfers in constructing a tale about bird-nappers ruffling the blue-hued feathers of two endangered hyacinth macaws. Just change the species from fowl to fish and you have “Finding Nemo.” Toss in a sentimental montage about a young girl growing up with her life partner, and before you know it, you’ll be asking yourself, “What’s ‘Up’ with that?”
The answer, ironically, is “not much.” In fact, “Rio” isn’t just a waste of time; it’s a colossal waste of an opportunity to draw needed attention to two pressing issues: the environment and the wildly uneven distribution of wealth in Brazil.
To its credit, “Rio” at least touches on those calamities, but it does it with such laissez faire that it’s nearly impossible to spot it amid all the foolishness.
And that silliness is mostly of the rote variety, with zany sidekicks, evil hench-monkeys and song-and-dance numbers that would make Busby Berkeley roll over in his grave. None of it compels or amuses. It just kind of hangs there like thick, gray smog.
Yet, as bland as the story is, it hardly distracts from a movie that is absolutely gorgeous to behold. It’s a virtual carnival of color set in and around Carnaval, Brazil’s version of Mardi Gras. The scope is wide and the detail in the drawings impeccable, whether it’s the landmark Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city’s harbor or a breathtaking wide shot of a Carnaval procession flowing through the party-hearty streets of Rio.
The real beauty is that you needn’t splurge for the more expensive 3-D version because the added dimension has nothing over the more economical 2-D format. But given the weakness of a script penned by a scavenging gaggle of writers, and the even weaker voice work contributed by the likes of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg and Jamie Foxx, “Rio” could have used the Sistine Chapel as a backdrop and still looked bland.
That’s because Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha (the “Ice Age” trilogy) gives little or no reason to care about his characters, most of whom are either boring or offensive, as is the case with a couple of “city birds” (voiced by Foxx and will.i.am from the Black-Eyed Peas), who jive talk their way into helping the macaws stage a pair of daring escapes.
At least Foxx and friend aren’t nearly as annoying as the comedically challenged George Lopez (someone please explain to me why he’s a star), overacting his way through his willy-nilly portrayal of a toucan whose beak is mightier than his bite. The toucan, too, is an ally of our heroes, Jewel (Hathaway) and Blu (Eisenberg), two birds brought together by a bumbling ornithologist (Rodrigo Santoro) charged with saving the species.
As romantic-comedy formula dictates, Blu and Jewel are too different to find love at first sight. Jewel is from the wild and longs to be free. Blu was raised in domestication by his beloved owner, Linda (Leslie Mann), who rescued him from the snowy Minnesota tundra a decade earlier after his cage fell off a poacher’s truck and fortuitously landed in her yard. He was just a baby then, and as a result of always being indoors, Blu never learned to fly.
This proves troublesome once a new band of poachers, from Brazil’s infamous favelas, comes along and swipes both Jewel and Blu from the Rio nature center where they’re trying -- and failing -- to get it on. Panicked, Linda and Santoro’s Tulio immediately set out in search of the stolen macaws.
As they hunt, Jewel and the brainy Blu begin devising an escape plan with the aid of their new bird pals voiced by Foxx, will.i.am and Lopez. But standing in their way is a mean and nasty cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement from “Flight of the Conchords”), who’d just as soon eat the macaws than let them flee.
I’ll give you one guess at how it all turns out. But don’t let that utter predictability bother you, because by the time those various twists begin to unfurl, you’ll have stopped caring to the point that all you want to do is give everyone -- including the poachers -- the bird.
RIO (G for mild off-color humor.) Featuring the voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and Jamie Foxx. Co-written and directed by Carlos Saldanha. 2 stars out of 4.