THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


If there were schools for movies, Zoom would be expelled for cheating. This kiddie comedy cribs material from much better films. It takes a little bit of Spy Kids, a little bit of the X-Men flicks, and a little bit of Sky High. Rather than attempting anything new or original, Zoom instead recycles things that have already been done elsewhere. On one level, the idea seems sound: take the best parts out of other stories and combine them. However, what looks good on paper doesn’t always play well on the screen – a fact that this muddled film attests to.

Tim Allen stars as Jack Shepard who, back in the day, had been a superhero known as Capt. Zoom. He headed up a team of heroes, the rest of whom were killed in action by the evil villain known as Concussion. Following that tragedy, Jack hung up his cape and disappeared. Rip Torn plays Larraby, the military leader in charge of America’s superhero program. When intelligence suggests that Concussion is returning to Earth via a time portal, Larraby knows that something needs to be done. He sends two of his scientists – the geeky Marsha Holloway (Courteney Cox) and the bumbling Dr. Grant (Chevy Chase) – to retrieve Jack.

The retired superhero (who has since lost his powers) is forced to return to headquarters and train an assemblage of kids – ages 6 to 17 – who all have some kind of unfocused mutant ability. Cindy (Ryan Newman) has super-strength; Taylor (Kate Mara) can move things with her mind; Dylan (Michael Cassidy) can turn invisible; and Tucker (Spencer Breslin) can stretch and expand any part of his body. Jack doesn’t want to train the kids, but he later learns that the only alternative is for Larraby to douse them with a toxic chemical that will artificially cause their powers to develop. Since Jack himself was once jolted with the chemical (and therefore knows the hazards firsthand), he reluctantly helps the kids get ready for battle with Concussion.

By now, you can presumably see the similarities to the other films I mentioned earlier. Zoom is disappointing in the way it stubbornly refuses to even vary the formula. Consider the powers possessed by the children. Super strength? Invisibility? Telekinesis? These things have been used over and over again in comic books/movies like X-Men and Fantastic Four. Since these are minors, couldn’t they have more appropriate powers? How about a little boy whose loud whining can shatter glass? Or a moody teenager literally capable of shooting looks that kill? There’s a lot of room here for originality, but the movie doesn’t take any of them.

The lack of effort extends to the sets and special effects, which look uniformly cheap. I remember watching the supplemental features on the Spy Kids DVDs. Director Robert Rodriguez does a segment called “Ten Minute Film School” in which he explains how he made the movies look expensive despite having a small budget. By combining simple green-screen effects with a little CGI magic, he was able to create worlds that were thrilling in their imaginativeness. I’m guessing that Zoom had a budget at least as big (probably bigger); so how come this film looks so terrible?

The cheapness of the effects is exacerbated by the dullness of the plot. For at least half of the running time, we’re not exactly sure who or what Concussion is, so the threat never feels real. When he does finally show his face, the villain is stripped of his menace by a plot twist that I won’t elaborate on. Good superhero movies need good villains. This one has a sort of anti-villain. No wonder the final battle is so short. It’s curious that the story is padded with at least half a dozen musical training montages, and then just barely gives the characters a chance to use what they’ve learned. I’m also not a fan of the mushy “we’re all a family” message that the picture bombards us with. Jack keeps pushing the family idea, yet there’s nothing in the characterization of these people that warrants it.

Let me switch tracks abruptly here. In all truthfulness, Zoom was better than I thought it would be…and by that, I mean that it didn’t completely suck. A few decent jokes are mined from the kids’ powers, and there’s a big laugh near the end when Capt. Zoom regains his powers; while running at super speed, he trips and bounces across the desert.

More importantly, there is a highly amusing supporting performance from Chevy Chase (the world’s funniest living human being) as the nerdy Dr. Grant. Sporting pancake makeup, a bad comb-over, and clothes that might have been in style back in 1972, Chase actually takes the time to do something interesting. (Tim Allen, meanwhile, continues his trend of playing Tim Allen.) The comedian has taken his fair share of lumps for past movies. Many of them aren’t as bad as they are reputed to be, but some of them are. Regardless, he’s been mostly absent from the big screen for a long time. It’s good to have him back. Even though Zoom is a tired retread, Chase seems to be reinvigorated by it. He’s genuinely funny here.

He’s also reason enough for me to be glad that I saw Zoom. Not that I’d recommend it, though. My guess is that most people are going to hate the film. Real little kids (like those around age 6) might think it’s cool, but adults will be ready to zoom out to the parking lot long before the movie is over.

( out of four)

Zoom is rated PG for brief rude humor, language and mild action.. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.

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