Furry Vengeance: Save the Forest, Disturb the Audience
As Furry Vengeance opens, we are treated to some wacky music and we see Rob Riggle driving down the road. I had the faintest glimmer of hope: Rob Riggle is a very funny man. All of that hope turned to cinder and ash when he turned the corner and we see a squirrel in the road, who stands and screams a human being’s scream with exaggerated CGI eyes and mouth. Now I’ve gone from hopeful to creeped out. He then communicates with his fellow animals, who have rigged a giant contraption with the sole purpose of rolling a giant boulder down a hill to knock cars over a cliff. I wondered, is there a limitless supply of boulders, or do the squirrels work together to roll the boulder back up the hill every time? The animals smile, wink, and giggle to one another as the boulder heads towards Riggle, which knocks his car to the very edge of the cliff. As it teeters, the squirrel appears, waves goodbye to him, and exhales, thus sending Riggle to his doom. Then we are treated to a cutesy animated opening credits, to try to make us think that the Stephen King-esque conspiracy to murder was adorable. Welcome to Furry Vengeance, where the filmmakers find the frightening, grotesque, and unnatural to be a scream. You’ll be screaming, all right.
We meet Dan Sanders, played by the always-game Brendan Fraser. He is a busy real estate developer constantly talking on his iPhone or working on his MacBook. During his spare time, he listens to his iPod, puts on his Nike shirt, Nike shorts, and Nike shoes, and runs on a treadmill. He also has to travel a lot, in a SUV that look surprisingly like a Ford Explorer, except there’s a small oval hole where the Ford logo was clearly removed, and on the back someone has placed cartoony stickers that read “HYBRID,” as if anyone would be fooled. The good people at Ford must have read the script, unlike the people at Apple and Nike, who enjoy the mistreatment of others. Sanders is turning a forest into a development for his boss, evil mogul Neal Lyman (Ken Jeong). There seem to be a lot of animals living in this forest, but Sanders rarely interacts with them unless they get in his garden. Early on, a squirrel is eating his garden, so Sanders turns the sprinkler on. This causes the squirrel’s eyes to open wide, his mouth to scream like a human, and his body to then run away. You’d think that, like Riggle, Fraser’s character would notice this and immediately insist he and his family move. No such luck, for him or for us.
It’s at this point I should explain the animals further, and why they disturb me so. You see, I’ve enjoyed talking animal movies in the past. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey had its animals communicate by talking telepathically. This inevitably made filming easier, and what they said was so earnest and warm that I accepted it. Babe had its animals’ mouths move as they spoke, which again I excused because the CGI was good and what they were saying meant something to me. Even films like Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Doolittle were somewhat excusable due to decent effects. Here, the animals don’t really talk. Instead, and bear with me since this concept might be difficult to fathom at first, they communicate… via thought bubble. Yes, an actual thought bubble appears on the screen which then shows the thoughts of the character. For example: at one point, an animal wants to communicate to a large group of animals that Brendan Fraser is the devil, so a thought bubble appears, and a red-painted Brendan Fraser with horns starts hopping around and screaming. This is about as funny as a colonoscopy. Actually, I take that back. There have been funny colonoscopies in movies.
Furthermore, the film keeps breaking its own rules. It seems to want the thought bubbles to appear so that its animals can stay somewhat realistic looking. However, they keep using CGI to make the animals smile or wink or scream, with bulged out eyes and body parts that move in unnatural ways. Clearly the filmmaker wants the film to be viewed as a live-action translation of a Looney Tunes cartoon or something. However, the concept of animals communicating in a human-like way is unsettling enough as it is when depicted realistically. Can you imagine if an animal’s mouth opened real big and screamed like you or me in real life? It’s enough to make me want to sleep with the lights on. What’s even worse is that the CGI is so bad that it makes them cease to look like recognizable animals altogether. They look more like those creatures from the old Quizno’s commercials. Cuddly recognizable creatures plotting revenge is one thing. Unrecognizable furry creatures with human characteristics plotting revenge is another. It’s like The Forest of Dr. Moreau.
The director, Roger Kumble, who once made us focus on Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair kissing in Cruel Intentions, is here obsessed once more with the orifices and private parts of human anatomy. Only this time, it’s how animals can injure and invade them. I will attempt to list all of these incidents now so that you never have to see them, and so you can fully understand what kind of humor we’re dealing with. First, they nibble through a sprinkler so it sprays Fraser in the crotch. Then, they make him spill coffee on his crotch. Then, they make the airbag explode in his car, which makes hot coffee explode into his eyes and mouth. Then, while pursuing a noisy bird, he slips on the roof and lands spread-eagle on his crotch on the pointy rooftop. Then he’s pecked in the eye by a crow. Then they put acorns in his cereal, which he puts into his mouth which cracks his teeth (although his teeth are fine in the next scene). Then skunks spray into his eyes and mouth. Then bees sting his entire face, especially the eyes region. Then a raccoon burps green mist directly into his nostrils and mouth. Then skunks spray his eyes and mouth again, this time at such close range that the spray liquid dribbles out of his mouth as the skunks continue to spray. Then leeches attaches themselves to his crotch. Then he is locked into a port-a-potty which is then shaken around and (somehow) put into a tree. Then, as if Roger Kumble didn’t make it clear enough what his particular animal-on-man punishment fetish was, he has a Fraser vs. Raccoon fight in which the raccoon bites his crotch, puts his paws deep into his mouth, pees into his mouth, and bites hard on his ear. If you see this film and note any of the eye, mouth, or crotch punishments that I missed, please make a note in the comments section after this review.
Other unfunny scenes that must be seen to be believed: 1. The scene in which Brendan Fraser, when he says a rock racing toward his car, screams, “MILEY CYRUS!” inexplicably. Steve Carell yelling “KELLY CLARKSON!”= funny. Brendan Fraser yelling “MILEY CYRUS!”= not funny. 2. The scene in which Brendan Fraser, bathing in tomato juice, is tricked into putting on a bra and standing naked in front of a window covered in tomato juice. No explanation for how this transpires is possible. 3. The scene in which Brendan Fraser, wearing only a tight pink velvet jumpsuit that says “YUM YUM” on the butt, jumps into a bramble where he meets a beehive. Again, no explanation for how this transpires is possible. 4. The dream sequence in which the animals are all singing and dancing to “Chic Le Freak,” and a beaver is wearing sunglasses and DJing. 5. The scene in which Fraser’s teen son, played by Matt Prokop of High School Musical 3 fame, and his love interest have the following conversation. Her: “Gandhi said to be the change you want to be in the world.” Him: “Did Gandhi say anything about not returning my phone calls or texts?” Sidenote: any time Prokop is on the phone, he says the word “bro” every other sentence… and not in an ironic way.
To counter that list, so that it doesn’t look like a total film assassination, I’ll list the things I enjoyed. Toby Huss, who famously played Artie the World’s Strongest Man on The Adventures of Pete & Pete, has the most fun here as a suspicious sheriff who always is accusing Brooke Shields of murder. The dialogue is atrocious, but Huss contorts his face and body enough to show that he’s enjoying hamming it up. Same for Ken Jeong, who is basically doing the same routine he always does, but here it appears like he knows how bad the film is, so he cranks the energy up to 11 to try to throw the film on his back. It’s a Tracy McGrady-esque performance: good enough to score some points, but not nearly enough to lead the team to a meaningful victory. Wallace Shawn is in the film, and his voice alone is funnier than 98% of the film. Jim Norton and Patrice O’Neal both play construction workers, and they have no lines, but they are getting a paycheck, which makes me smile. A gag in which a mole hits human heads which pop out of the holes at the Whack-A-Mole exhibit at the carnival makes no sense, but it comes close to wit. Finally, there’s an end credits sequence where they show “Furry TV,” versions of famous TV shows, movies, or music videos starring the stars of the film. One of them is Blue Lagoon, with Brooke Shields (Fraser’s wife in the film) as herself and Brendan Fraser sporting a blonde afro wig. It’s a joke no kids will get, and I appreciated its inclusion. No laugh ever came out of my mouth… but a distinct moment of appreciation did occur.
Of course, that moment came after perhaps the most unsettling movie in years and the most misguided ending any movie in recent history has had. Oh, I don’t mean the actual conclusion of the film, in which the birds have thought bubbles of World War Two and fire bird poop like rounds of ammunition at people, and an old Indian man gets hit with a huge animal tranquilizer, causing him to scream while sticking his tongue out. No, I can forgive all of that. It’s consistent with the rest of the film. The final moment of the film: an old woman is sitting with an owl at a table. The owl turns to her and says, in a thick Latino accent, “Who you tryin’ to get crazy wit’, ese? Don’t you know I’m loco?” And then the end credits play with the entire cast singing a Disneyfied little kid pop version of “Insane in the Brain.” Read that again. No, it’s not a joke. It’s like a Miley Cyrus/Jonas Brothers version of the Cypress Hill ode to violent psychotics. I honestly can’t think of a more misguided ending to a film in all my life. Fitting, since the film on the whole is so misguided. I would say it’s like watching a car crash, but watching a car crash contains far more intrigue– and compared to Furry Vengeance, far more humor.