Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
Is it safe to say that a studio has officially, obnoxiously overdone a movie’s marketing when a review cannot help but discuss the commercials first? Yes, the kids and I laughed (not inappropriately, hopefully) the first couple of times we saw Chris Rock’s “Madagascar 3” ad spot with Marty the zebra doing his circus-afro shtick. For all his sociopolitical savvy, Rock also knows silly, and he made it work. But I wish we had kept count of how many times per day we would end up seeing the thing over the next several weeks. Six? Ten? Way too many, certainly, for a gag so fragilely dependent on the Gilbert Gottfried School’s loud-is-funny paradigm. You can picture the DreamWorks corporate confab: “OK, the kids respond to move-it, move-it repetition — give us something else repetitive, and let’s get herding.” It wasn’t just desperate, it was insulting.
It also was not entirely necessary. There’s some bona fide big-top wonder in this team-up between ragtag European circus critters (notably Bryan Cranston’s “Breaking Bad”-broody Russian tiger) and Central Park Zoo expats Marty, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). Cascading, colorful 3-D performance sequences are sufficiently dazzling that you’ll forgive the bajillionth soundtrack sampling of “Firework.” There’s also script material co-written by Noah Baumbach (Stiller’s “Greenberg”), seemingly a fresh choice. (Grown-ups can entertain themselves guessing what Baumbach might have contributed: the risqué stuff between Sacha Baron Cohen’s King Julien and a feral she-bear? The Cirque du Soleil riffs?) And there’s some fun patter from Martin Short, surprisingly avoiding staleness himself as a Roberto Benigni-broad Italiano seal.
There might be even more to offset the movie’s beaten-to-death signature bit if an act wasn’t wasted on geographic housekeeping — something about those rascally penguins and chimps being in Monte Carlo, hedonistically squandering the ingenuity that could get the gang home. It’s the same lesson that the “Beverly Hills Cop” crew never learned: Why not just lose the setting from your title, and free up your sequel plotting completely? Still, this convoluted stretch does introduce Frances McDormand’s amusing Capitaine DuBois, an animal-control gendarme with an anti-PETA streak worthy of Cruella De Vil, and whose dogged pursuit chases our heroes to the circus. She’s as ridiculously relentless as those ads. Almost, anyway.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.