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Movie Review

Liftoff is a challenge for 'Space Chimps'

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / July 18, 2008

"Space Chimps" isn't just the title of the new computer-animated film opening today. It's a generic product description. You - or rather your very young children - understand that those functional two words promise monkeyshines and rocketry, and that's all they need to know. A critic's job is harder. Reviewing this thing is like reviewing a waffle iron.

In which case, does it make good waffles? Not really, but kids, the little garbage pails, will eat just about anything. Short, cheap, weird, and passably diverting, "Space Chimps" tells the tale of Ham (voiced by Andy Samberg of "SNL"), a cavalier circus chimp drafted by NASA to lead an interstellar space mission. Problem is he's an irresponsible cowboy, and his arrogance appalls dedicated crew-mates Luna (Cheryl Hines) and Titan (Patrick Warburton). Once on the alien planet, differences fall away as the three contend with Lord Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels, who I'm guessing has college bills to pay), a Shrek-ish meanie turned dictator.

"Space Chimps" is notable for the low-cost ugliness of its animation and for a strange bargain-bin surrealism. The movie's surfaces have a hard, plastic sheen to them that's the exact opposite of Pixar's fertile detail (the humans especially seem to have come out of the computers half-cooked).

I'm also not quite sure what to think about Kilowatt (Kristin Chenoweth), a tiny, Kewpie-headed critter whose head lights up and who at one point passes blithely through the intestinal tract of a cave monster. Back at Mission Control, our heroes are guided by a kid chimp (Zack Shada), Ham's grizzled mentor (Carlos Alazraqui), a nasty senator (Stanley Tucci), and a trio of scientists, the least amusing of which is a "funny" Hindi nerd (Omid Abtahi) who falls down a lot. "Space Chimps" ain't "The Simpsons" and it shouldn't have gone there.

Aside from teaching your children racist stereotypes - and, really, it's never too early - the movie's acceptable entertainment for the toddler set. Anyone older may resist, especially since there are so many superior animated movies out there already. "Space Chimps" raises the question: How are you going to keep them down on the render-farm after they've seen "WALL-E"?

Space Chimps

Directed by: Kirk De Micco

Written by: De Micco and Robert Moreland

Starring: the voices of Andy Samberg, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Daniels, Patrick Warburton, Kristin Chenoweth

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 81 minutes

Rated: G

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