Movie Review: “Penguins of Madagascar”

Starring
Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich
Directors
Eric Darnell & Simon J. Smith

And so it’s come to this: spinoffs.

To be fair, “Penguins of Madagascar” makes perfect business sense on a number of levels. The penguins have been a TV staple for six years, so giving them a full-length feature has zero risk and a built-in audience. As an added bonus, launching a spinoff buys time for DreamWorks to plan the next “Madagascar” movie (currently scheduled for 2018). The tail is clearly wagging the dog here, for better and for worse. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s a shallow one. It’s also strange to get an origin story, and a hollow one at that, for characters we’ve known for almost 10 years.

The movie begins with Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon), as young penguins, daring to go against the conformist penguins and battling leopard seals in order to save a runaway, unhatched penguin egg, which would ultimately be Private (Christopher Knights). From that day forward, the four vowed to go against the grain and live for adventure. One day, they are captured by Dr. Octavius Brine (John Malkovich), who’s actually an octopus in disguise that is fed up with the overall cuteness of penguins, and plans to ruin them for all mankind. Enter the North Wind, a government agency assigned to protect animals in danger. Their leader is a wolf (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose name is classified. Skipper does not like having to answer to Classified, but as penguins begin disappearing around the world, the two must find a way to coexist and catch Brine.

“Penguins of Madagascar” has a fantastic running joke that, frankly, I’m surprised no one has done before. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it is, because spoilers. It’s the best thing about the movie, though, and for that alone, you don’t want this to be spoiled by a film critic.

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Movie Review: “RED 2″

Starring
Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough
Director
Dean Parisot

Though it featured a veritable who’s who of some of Hollywood’s greatest veteran actors, 2010’s “RED” was a bit of a surprise hit, earning $200 million worldwide during the doldrums of October. You’d forgive Summit Entertainment for wanting to fast-track a sequel then, even if the source material on which it’s based (Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer’s three-issue comic book series of the same name) was completely exhausted in the first film. Of course, that hasn’t stopped series writers Jon and Erich Hoeber from continuing their story of retired, extremely dangerous CIA agent Frank Martin, and although it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as its predecessor, “RED 2” is still a good deal of fun thanks almost entirely to its star-studded cast.

Following the events of the last movie, Frank (Bruce Willis) has been trying to lead a quiet, domestic life with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but she yearns for another adventure. And her wish is granted when Marvin (John Malkovich) tracks Frank down to warn him that they’ve been framed as domestic terrorists involved in a top secret operation known as Nightshade, a ludicrous Cold War plot to sneak a portable WMD into Moscow, only for it to go missing. But the Russian nuke is very much real, and the only person who knows of its whereabouts is Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), the physicist responsible for building it, who’s been locked away in a British insane asylum for over 30 years, despite being believed dead. So when the U.S. government hires a deadly assassin (Byung-hun Lee) to take Frank out, he must team up with his fellow operatives to recover the bomb and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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