Directed by Kirk De Micco. Voices by Andy Samberg, Cheryl Hines, Patrick Warburton, Jeff Daniels, Stanley Tucci, Kristin Chenoweth. (2008, G, 81 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 25, 2008
With an insipidly generic title like Space Chimps, you might expect something along the lines of a Sid & Marty Krofft production, or possibly some sort of The Three Stooges meets Planet of the Apes meets Bob Ray's Ape Sh!t gambit – anything but the frequently laugh-out-loud snarkiness of this (admittedly) uneven but far from awful take on, um, chimps in space. And who doesn't love an animated, anthropomorphized-chimpanzee-starring, sci-fi romantic comedy? (Okay, sure, the legion of bat-maddened fans of The Dark Knight, who have been calling for certain critical heads on a pike outside the gates of Gotham, for starters, but work with me here – it's worth it.) Tolerable G-rated films of the non-Pixar variety which actually offer up some intelligent criticism of the status quo and more than two chuckles per act are generally as rare as life on Mars is presumed to be, but 20th Century Fox's Space Chimps is endearingly ridiculous and frequently smart, and, occasionally, pretty dumb. In short, it's a lot like its target audience of kids with parents in tow or, more inclusively, Homo sapiens. This story of a jaded, selfish, but ultimately heroic circus chimp named Ham III (Samberg), who is plucked from obscurity by NASA and sent into space alongside a pair of real chimp astronauts (for reasons too complicated to get into here), has its share of deep-core cinematic clichés but still manages to be surprisingly unsucky. That's thanks in large part to the excellent voice casting but even more so to the sheer volume of gags, which runs the gamut from digs at the feds ("Thanks for cooperating with your government under threat of prosecution!" holler the G-man and -woman who kidnap Ham from his sideshow home) to easier jabs at Star Trek and, I kid you not, an involved, esoteric bit of Freudian analysis played for no-child-is-gonna-get-this-but-what-the-hell? laughs and the single greatest joke about Barstow, Calif., ever, period. Add to that the utterly psychedelic color palette and the fluid, often gorgeous CGI animation, and you have a film that, in a non-Pixar dominated reality, would be cleaning up at the box office. It's enough to make you laugh.