Space Chimps & r & & r & by MARYANN JOHANSON & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f jokes about missing links and "the primate directive" are your idea of the height of wit... If monkeys in space suits but with bare hands and feet are your idea of the height of science fiction... If you haven't gotten enough this year of terrible comedies ripping off jokes from the 30-year-old Airplane! (see also: The Love Guru)... then have I got a movie for you.
It's Space Chimps, and it's awful. Not just the usual kind of awful, these days, in that it's a movie intended for kids yet full of inappropriate sexual innuendo and pop culture references that are decades out of date, apparently as some sort of sop to the poor parents who get dragged along to these kinds of movies. (Even though that never works in placating any grownup caught in such an insidious cinematic web.) Though Space Chimps is all that, of course.
No, this CGI-animated horror show is far more ambitious, daring to mix some darkly disturbing stuff into the churning cesspit of stupid puns and sight gags. Though I fear that director Kirk De Micco -- who co-wrote the script with Robert Moreland, who is also responsible for the similarly deeply terrible animated flick Happily N'Ever After -- means it all to be clever and cute and original, and not disturbing at all. And that's way worse, of course, than if it were meant to be uncomfortable -- because it means that no one even realized how unnervingly weird this misbegotten mess is.
Three chimps -- two museum exhibits meant to illustrate NASA's glory days and one comic-relief sidekick -- get shot through a wormhole, chasing after a missing deep-space probe that has landed on an alien world. It's bad news for the aliens, because one bully alien, Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels), has decided to use this strange technology to set himself up as a tinpot dictator. Because kids love watching despotism in action -- it's fun! (Things could be worse, though, for the nice little aliens upon which the Earth probe wreaks such havoc: It could have been carrying a copy of this movie. And Zartog could have forced them to watch it.) The chimps decide to free the aliens from tyranny. Because that's fun, too.
One of the chimps is voiced by the inexpressibly hilarious Partrick Warburton, but don't let that fool you: Even he cannot save this. One of the other chimps, the sidekick guy, is a circus performer called Ham III. If a chimp could be an asshole, he'd be it. (He's voiced by Saturday Night Live village idiot Andy Samberg). And that's the tenor of the film -- monkeys being assholes -- until it all turns terrifying, mostly thanks to an alien creature with a tiny baby's body and a huge glowing head that screams constantly (the voice of Kristin Chenoweth, which usually is just fine). The creature, which is creepy and bizarre, is actually meant to be cute and adorable. And it suffers a fate worse than -- well, if you've seen most of the movies aimed at kids these days, you know they're full of toilet humor that panders to kindergarteners' fascination with poop. This little alien's adventures in excretion will give nightmares even to those kids.
It all makes me long for the depth of character and theme of Pigs in Space. Which, next to this, was 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Rated G)