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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Space Chimps. The title makes me chuckle. But then again, there's something about monkeys that has always cracked me up. As a kid, I used to adore the all-simian TV show "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp." If the cast of that program teamed up with the guys from Be Kind Rewind to remake The Right Stuff, this is what you'd end up with.

Our hero is Ham (voiced by Andy Samberg), a circus chimp who is drafted by NASA to join a space mission. Along with fellow monkeys Luna (Cheryl Hines) and Titan (Patrick Warburton), Ham is supposed to help retrieve a multi-billion dollar satellite that has gone into a wormhole and been spit out onto some far-off alien planet. He and the others blast off, go through the same wormhole, and discover that an alien named Zartog (Jeff Daniels) has seized the satellite and reprogrammed it to be his own personal attack vehicle. Zartog uses the device to seize control of his planet and force all the other aliens to bow to his every whim. The grandson of one of the original NASA chimps, Ham feels he has a legacy to live up to, so he hatches a plan to get the satellite away from Zartog, repair it, and pilot it back to Earth.

Despite a genial nature and a smattering of humorous moments, Space Chimps is doubtlessly low on the evolutionary scale of animated movies. The CGI is rudimentary, rarely, if ever, going beyond the kind of graphics you'd see in a Nintendo Wii game. (Those are fine if you're playing a video game, but to slap them on a giant screen and charge people eight bucks to see them is pushing it.) I especially noticed it in the scenes where Zartog dunks his disobedient subjects in a mysterious freezing liquid. On the DVDs for most computer animated movies, you usually get a special feature showing how multiple layers are added to make the images seem progressively more realistic. The liquid Zartog uses looks like it only made it through half of those stages, to the one where everything is gray and unfinished. Additionally, the chimps have rather limited facial expressions, the backgrounds are static and sparse, and the alien creatures all look the same, with little detail to them. The whole visual look of Space Chimps screams "cheap-o."

A bigger problem is the story, which just kind of meanders aimlessly from one thing to another. I got the strong impression that the filmmakers had a title and knew they wanted to make a movie about monkeys in space. What they didn't have was a direction. You can almost hear them trying to assemble the pieces into a coherent whole: We need an action scene here. Now we need some kind of cute creature to help the chimps. Now we need a bad guy to create menace, etc. Overall, this is not a bad idea for a movie. NASA really did send monkeys into orbit once. A good (if imaginative) family picture could be made from that premise. This one doesn't know what to do with it. The chimps go into space, then run around connecting a bunch of dots that don't add up to a bigger picture.

This is not the worst movie ever made by a long shot. I laughed a few times, and there's an overall sense of genuine weirdness that kind of appealed to me. (I've said it before and I'll say it again - weird goes a long way with me.) But here's my bottom line: Given that we have a gorgeously-animated, beautifully-constructed interstellar fantasy like Wall-E currently in theaters, why would anybody waste their time on Space Chimps?

( out of four)

Space Chimps is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out Space Chimps

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