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Space Chimps


Space Chimps

Director: Norton Virgien
Cast: Omid Abtahi

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The CGI kids' film Space Chimps hits theaters days after the videogame hits every major platform, but that isn't as revealing as it once was; a lot of modern franchises go the same route. Still, with Space Chimps, it's hard to avoid noticing how much the actual movie feels like a middling-okay videogame, raising the question "Which is the actual product, and which is the peripheral spin-off?" Nothing about Space Chimps suggests a strong cinematic or artistic drive; it's fairly videogame-y itself, with characters bouncing around visually repetitive environments, having goal-focused encounters, and fighting a literal boss monster. The latest from Vanguard Animation looks a little better than the studio's previous films (the wretched Valiant and the shrug-worthy Happily N'Ever After) but story remains Vanguard's weak point.

Andy Samberg voices Ham, a glib circus chimp who winds up in space through an eye-rolling contrivance: When a V'Ger-like space cloud dumps a NASA rover on "the far end of the universe," the space agency sends in a pair of proud, heavily trained chimpanzee astronauts, but a snotty senator (Stanley Tucci) decries them as "chimp nerds" and forces Ham, grandson of a famous space-chimp, along on the mission as a PR stunt. The other chimps, Luna (Cheryl Hines) and Titan (Patrick Warburton, in one of his signature big-dumb-stiff roles), are so disgusted that they all spend 15 minutes lamely zinging each other. But Luna and Titan learn to appreciate Ham after they all crash-land on a planet where a poorly animated alien named Zartog (Jeff Daniels) has used the first NASA rover to become a malevolent dictator over his society. Then an obnoxious pink blob with a tit for a head and the squealing voice of Kristin Chenoweth arrives to take over the story.

It's always a little unsettling when a children's film claims that training and dedication to a cause are dorky, dumb, and no match for a smart mouth and good genes. But Space Chimps isn't offensive so much as negligible. There's some creativity in the alien ecosphere and the occasionally entertaining banter, but the patronizing script, cheap human stereotypes, console-level animation, and overly similar chase scenes all make for a punishing experience. Like a poorly designed videogame, it's as much a test of endurance of repetition as anything else.