By Alan Scherstuhl
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After making a mint off a series about nothing, Jerry Seinfeld apparently decided his first feature film ought to be about something — in the case of Bee Movie, the enslavement and torture of bees for the pleasure and profit of humans, which is, like, hilarious. It's rather tempting to approach Seinfeld's cartoon as a commentary on, oh, the war in Iraq; one need look no further than a scene that re-creates the iconic toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad on April 9, 2003 — using instead a teddy-bear-shaped container of honey. Or maybe it's a Holocaust metaphor, complete with references to "work camps" in which "Bee-ish" slaves are sedated and stored for the manufacturing of honey till they're discarded by the bee keepers (after all, Seinfeld's character points out, "They aren't called 'bee-free-ers'!"). Pret-ty, pret-ty good. Because kids love slavery and war.
Alas, there's only so much you can do with talking bugs that hasn't already been covered in A Bug's Life, Antz or The Ant Bully — though hooking up Seinfeld's buzzed-cut Barry B. Benson with a hottie human voiced by Renee Zellweger is a first, sort of a new spin on bee-stiality. For all the muscle and money behind Bee Movie, which took years and millions to make, it still feels unfocused and unfinished — like Seinfeld and his screenwriting pals made up Bee Movie as they went along, to the point where the final thirty minutes are so dizzyingly disjointed you expect the film to disintegrate before the end credits roll.
For a while, it's cute, family fun — a visually sumptuous and casually goofy hour during which Barry discovers he doesn't want to be just another worker bee, flies the hive to discover the grand expanse of Manhattan in spring, and meets the adorable florist, Vanessa Bloome (Zellweger), who'd rather spend time with the bee than with her boorish boyfriend (Patrick Warburton, forever Puddy in Jerry's hands). Seinfeld has populated his hive with nifty touches: newspaper headlines that read, "Frisbee Hits Hive!," movie posters for such titles as The Killer Queen, and honey-drippers at every turn. He also has the requisite nebbish best friend, Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick), and overbearing parents (director Barry Levinson and Kathy Bates), who worry their boy will settle for a wasp and not a nice Bee-ish girl. There's even a rather funny Graduate reference, with Barry floating in a pool of honey while his old man demands that he figure out his future.
But rather suddenly, the bee-a-man plot disappears, as Bee Movie turns into...a courtroom thriller? Sadly so, as Barry discovers that humans (and Ray Liotta) are selling honey at discount prices — honey the bees have worked their whole brief lives to make. Having once been ordered never to speak to humans lest he ruin the delicate balance of nature, Barry inevitably finds himself in a courtroom prosecuting the likes of Liotta and, yes, Sting, who Barry claims has appropriated bee culture in a joke that plays about as funny as it reads. John Goodman's on hand as the Suth'n defense attorney channeling William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes "monkey trial." Only with bees. And Oprah Winfrey's the judge, one more cameo amid dozens. After a while, Bee Movie turns into an issue of Entertainment Weekly.
And if that isn't packing enough into a movie, there's a third act that deals with the ruination of the entire planet, thanks to Barry's returning the world's honey supply to its rightful owners. By the time he reaches the Tournament of Roses parade. with Vanessa in tow, well, the whole thing shoots off the rails: Much of the final half hour feels like little more than a giant give-up. Seinfeld's omnipresent Bee Movie TV advertorials are more fully realized than the shrugging finale. (They're also considerably funnier, none more than the commercial in which Seinfeld kidnaps a migrant animator as he sneaks across the border dressed in animal costumes.)
The funniest moments in Bee Movie are the throwaway lines, the tossed-off comments that might be leftovers from Seinfeld's routine — the bit about women and toe rings ("It's like putting a hat on your knee"), the gag about TiVo ("You mean you can just freeze live TV? That's insane"). And then there's Chris Rock as a mosquito on his quest for moose blood — "crazy stuff," he says, sounding like a junkie in need of a fix. Rock has but two scenes in the film, but he needs a hundred more. Give the man his own movie, please, if only because it'd bee far better than this one.
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