One indication that something is rotten on Verona Avenue - yes, that's the address of the side-by-side gardens of the Capulets and the Montagues, populated, respectively, with red-garbed and blue-garbed gnomes - is the screenplay credit. Not counting the Bard himself, there are nine names cited, a portentous number that suggests this concept was fussed over and story-conferenced to a state bordering on comatose.
Directed by Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2), himself one of the cowriters, Gnomeo & Juliet does boast a formidable - and mostly British - cast of voice actors. James McAvoy and Emily Blunt do the honors for the title characters, and Michael Caine's identifiable London timbre emerges from Lord Redbrick, leader of the red gnomes. Maggie Smith is his counterpart, matriarch of the blues. And Jason Statham supplies the voice for Tybalt, who, in this version, is an ethically challenged cutup who cheats at lawn-mower racing.
But this estimable bunch of thespians is given nothing to work with. If the folks at Pixar justifiably pride themselves on their scripts and stories, the Gnomeo & Juliet folks should just slink away quietly.
"Let's go kick some grass!" exclaims Gnomeo, as he leads a sortie over the wall to take on the enemy.
"I am not illiterate! My parents were married!" says another gnome, indignantly.
"You look like a fun guy," someone quips to the ceramic garden mushroom. Fun guy. Fungi. Get it?
And then there's the Terraferminator, a Transformer-like power-mower that belongs in an altogether different movie. And midway through, along comes a pink flamingo - a plastic pink flamingo. Featherstone has a Cuban accent and a backstory: He was left in a garage after the couple who lived in the house divorced. Cut to a gloomy montage: shadowy silhouettes of a husband and wife, a moving truck, voices of domestic discord.
Great stuff for the kids!
Still, even the lamest of films in which garden gnomes figure has to have its redeeming moments. And in Gnomeo & Juliet, that moment comes, as in Toy Story, when the animated inanimates have to freeze in their tracks as a human being runs by.
This happens once or twice.
Gnomeo & Juliet ** (out of four stars)
Directed by Kelly Asbury. With the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Ashley Jensen, and Jim Cummings. Distributed by Walt Disney/Touchstone.
Running time: 1 hour, 24 mins.
Parent's guide: G (cartoon mayhem, domestic discord)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Steven Rea
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