His name is Sterling – Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith). And he’s the most awesome super-spy that the secret government agency H.T.U.V. (Honor, Trust, Unity and Valor) has. He’s also a self-centered dick that has no control, prefers to work alone, and acts like the world revolves around him. He’s sent to recover intel about weaponized drones from Japanese arms dealer Katsu Kimura (Masi Oka), but he’s outwitted by Killian (Ben Mendelsohn), a criminal mastermind with a bionic hand-claw. Sterling narrowly escapes Kimura’s clutches (and his hoard of samurai–the Crazy 88’s?) by using a cutsie kitty-glitter bomb, something not in his usual destructive arsenal.
Furious about the kitty-bomb, he locates HTUV’s weird genius, young Walter Beckett (Holland) who despite being off-the-charts smart, only makes strange non-lethal weapons. But Sterling has bigger problems: Killian has just framed the super-spy for treason and now Lance is on the run for his life, being pursed by the doggedly team of Marcy Kappel (Rashinda Jones), computer expert Eyes (Karen Gillan), and listener Ears (DJ Khaled). Needing to disappear and find Killian to clear his name, Lance turns to goof-ball Beckett for help, but things go wrong very fast. Beckett accidentally turns Lance into a pigeon!
Pigeon Lance, flipping out over his new appearance, decides to still go after Killian, but first he has to find him. Grudgingly, he has Beckett tag along so he can find an antidote to his pigeoness. Lance and the kid fly (in a jet, thank you) to Mexico to interrogate Kimura, which has disastrous results. Looks like fine-feathered Lance has picked up his own flock of fellow wacky pigeon pals that just want to help. Geez, what else could go wrong? Oh, how about Kappel and her crack-team of HTUV soldiers closing in on them every single place they go!
Barely escaping again, the guys navigate to Venice to find Killian’s island fortress stronghold, however by this time, Beckett has made an antidote. As Lance wrestles with the idea of completing the mission as a bird or not, Killian is about to launch a swarm of lethal killer drones on the world! Will Lance take the potion and be human again? Can Lance ever be friends with a science geek like Beckett? Will Killian win the day and destroy all of HTUV? And is that Reba McEntire as HTUV’s head director?
Brad Copeland (Ferdinand, Yogi Bear) and newbie Lloyd Taylor have written a screenplay chock-full of fun, fast-paced hijinks, and some solid laughs for the adults in the audience. Heck, there’s even a moment where Beckett & Lance discuss the deep philosophical meaning behind the good & evil in every person! Pretty cool! But also in this lightning-fast movie you have the usual “cartoon” gimmicks: gigantic leaps of logic, gravity-defying physics, and the inevitable second act break-up that leads to the third act reconciliation, a standard trope that is in practically every animated feature film made. But I gotta admit, it still made me smile. It’s not as LOL as Storks or The Lego Batman Movie, but it still delivers the same frenetic silly pace and charm.
Then you have the newbie directors, Troy Quane & Nick Bruno who have, up until now, only been supervising animators on movies like The Peanuts Movie and the Ice Age films. Armed with that kind of background, they really stepped up their game and delivered a dynamite first movie. Just look at the beginning credits, which is a delicious parody of the old James Bond openings. The animation is clean with an attention to detail not seen in those dreadful low-budget CGI kids films like Arctic Dogs, Wonder Park and Ugly Dolls. And the voice-over work is spot-on as well.
Will Smith gives this his best, as if this was a live-action feature film. All his vocal mannerisms, inflections, and ad-libbing is even caught on his CG character, just like Tom Holland. It’s also interesting to note that some of the characters resemble others in the animation world: Beckett looks like Remi from Ratatouille and Killian resembles the villain from Big Hero 6. Just sayin’.
Oh Heavenly Dog (1980)
In-between his highly successful films Caddyshack, Seems Like Old Times, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chase made this dog of a film. And I mean that literally. He hated making this movie, has never seen it, and only makes jokes about it. Yeah, it’s that’s bad. How bad? Benji the dog has second billing!
Writer, producer, dog trainer, and director Joe Camp made a killing in the late 70’s and early 80’s with his cash-cow, Benji the dog. A damn fine little mongrel mutt that could really act and, in his lucrative film career (Benji The Hunted, Benji At Work, etc), that doggie made a fortune in box office returns. Astonishing. Anyway, someone thought it would be a great idea (foolish mortals!) to pair Chevy Chase and Benji together for a murder mystery by way of 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
Chase plays (for the first 16 minutes) American private investigator Benjamin Browning working in London. After meeting cute with Times writer & reporter, Jackie Howard (Jane Seymour), he gets a case from obvious villain, Malcolm Bart (Omar Sharif), to be a bodyguard for a fancy art dealer named Patricia Elliot. But when Benjamin goes to call on her, he finds her dead, and is immediately stabbed in the back! Ouch! Now deceased and sitting in a waiting room in Purgatory (?), a cocky Mr. Higgins (Stuart Germain) tells Benjamin he CAN go back to Earth to solve his own death… BUT only as a dog. And he only has six months to do it!
Transformed into Benji the dog, we still hear Benjamin’s voice bitching and complaining about his troubles. He finds, by incredible coincidence, Jackie Howard again in seconds, and she takes him back to London; another fantastic coincidence, as that’s where Benjamin needs to go! Back in London, the dog starts to investigate the murder scene and his old business office, both of which are visited by Jackie who, again coincidentally, is writing a book on the death of Patricia Elliot. But finding that dog in both places makes her think twice, and she takes the dog home with her, calling him BJ.
As the movie progresses, both Jackie and BJ pick up clues here and there which eventually point to Alistair Becket (John Stride), an up-and-coming candidate for Prime Minister. But just as she (and BJ) crack the case and Bart publicly confesses to the killing, Jackie is murdered on the spot. Damn! Despondent over Jackie’s sudden demise and his remaining a dog forever (or, at least, however long dogs live), he is overjoyed to find that Jackie has been sent back. BUT AS A CAT!!?? That’s right! A CAT! Not a dog, like himself, but a friggin’ CAT!
You can see it in Chase’s lackluster and bored acting and in his lazy voice-over, he was NOT happy making this movie. Apparently, all the v/o lines that Chase gave the dog he improv’d, trying to make it funnier than the script. But director/writer Camp would have none of it. He had Chase go back after shooting and re-loop all of his voice-over lines, sticking to the dull, boring, and witless script dialogue that Camp wrote. No wonder Chase was pissed!
Ya gotta give it up for that dog, though. That canine can pull off some amazing stunts and register quite a bit of emotion on his fuzzy little face! The only humans in this piece of trash that are giving any kind of a performance are Seymour and Shariff. Tasty Trivia here: Benji HATED Sharif and refused to work with him! Sharif, upset by this, had to be played off-camera by director Joe Camp. Speaking of Camp, his history of writing/directing is almost only with his little friend, Benji, from 1974 to 2004. His son, Brandon, has picked up dad’s mantle and became a filmmaker, making 2018’s Benji.