Monday, May 18, 2009

Yabba Dabba Don't: Viva Rock Vegas Review

For the last few months, I've been planning a trip to Las Vegas for the Memorial Day weekend, and like a kid waiting to go to the amusement park I find myself thinking more and more about that day the closer it nears. I just can't wait. And now, only a few days away from my flight, as I think of Las Vegas, another pair of words also enters my mind. A pair of words inextricably linked to that gambling mecca to such a degree that I'm sure you know them instantly.

Sin City? Nah.

Win Big? C'mon now.

High Roller? Don't be silly.

The Flintstones?

Ding Ding Ding! Jackpot!!!! I's obvious. They go together TNT and a human asshole. Recipe. For. Disaster. But someone had the brilliant idea to mesh Sin City and the Bedrock Bunch and the result was this week's lame-duck comedy, Viva Rock Vegas, which I am suffering through just to prove that I really did earn this vacation (as if two months of Steven Seagal chased down with The Spirit wasn't proof enough).

Normally this is where I would talk about the original Flintstones movie to give you some background, but the last (re:only) time I saw it was when I was eight and it was new in theaters. All I remember is being ecstatic when I had to pee and thusly had an excuse to leave the theater because I was pretty well bored. When you consider that insomnia cures like Indian in the Cupboard and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers positively enthralled me as a child, I think this really says something. So, sidestepping the background I'll just cut to the chase and tell you that Viva Rock Vegas is that most dreaded of beasts: the prequel. Are these ever good? I mean, name a good prequel, please! The only prequels I can even think of are the Star Wars ones and...the less said the better. Of course, this isn't really the first Flintstones prequel lest we forget...

Uh, yeah, on second thought let's forget. Viva Rock Vegas takes us back to a time when Barney and Betty and Fred and Wilma aren't yet married, but by golly those boys are a-tryin'! Boy, I wonder if they'll succee-oh yeah, we already know they did. See, that's the problem with prequels: you know exactly where they're going. Dramatic tension: lost. Admittedly, this isn't the kind of movie that's going to rely on such a thing as tension – after all, it's a comedy and you're just supposed to laugh as the characters do everything you expect them to from the get-go – but still, at least a little bit of uncertainty would be nice so I had something to care about. But we ain't got that here. Don't worry, though, the filmmakers replaced it with something much better:


Well, I'll give the movie credit for a surprising opening. Rather than plunging us straight into Bedrock, they instead have a spaceship fly out of the studio logo, a spaceship containing that annoying sidekick The Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming) and what appears to be his entire race. After a forced “cutesy” moment where they do indeed see the “Univershell” logo orbiting the planet (ha ha, it is to laugh), one little green man tells Gazoo he's a screw up and will be banished to Earth since there's “almost no civilization to fuck up”. At first I thought I simply misheard “muck up” but the little man very emphatically shouts “quit FUCKING up” a moment later. Wow, and this got a PG rating? Anyway, they lock Gazoo in a capsule and launch his ass to Earth to observe how humans mate. I suppose I can appreciate the effort needed for a wrap-around story, but did we really need one? I mean, come on: Gazoo sucks. He was never funny in the cartoon and there ain't no way no how he's going to be funny here. Not to mention that he and his people are just flat-out visually unappealing: live-action human heads CGI'd onto claymation bodies straight out of Pee Wee's Playhouse or something. Was this movie made in 1986? The California Raisins looked better than this.

Down on Earth, Fred (Mark Addy from The Full Monty if you can believe it) and Barney (Stephen Baldwin?) head to work at the rock quarry (crossing a horrendously fake-looking live dinosaur bridge to get there) and talk about some big test they have coming up. Fred says he'll just cram the morning of the test but, oh ho ho, Barney tells him the test is today! Actually, right now! The test involves Fred piloting a fake-brontosaurus to see how well he can use a beast as a crane. Despite some “comical” mishaps, he winds up passing in the end. And then he kills his proctor by dropping a boulder on the poor man. Meanwhile, Barney gets called in to work on a “backfiring brontosaurus” and you know what that means! DINO-FART! YAY!!!!

Elsewhere in town, a bridal shower presided over by Joan Collins (presumably the old crone is playing herself) is happening at a big ass, fake-looking mansion (can you say “facade”?). The squeaky, annoying bride receives a vacuum cleaner (re: horribly fake-looking dinosaur puppet) from Wilma, who's nowhere to be found. That's because she's off on a balcony staring into a giant matte paintin-er, that is she's looking out over the completely photo-realistic city skyline.

Wilma is played by Nicole Bass-lookalike first class Kristen Thomas, best known as that really manly-looking woman on 3rd Rock from the Sun. Oh yeah, she's exactly what I think of when I hear the words “Wilma Flintstone”. Good God, she's frightening to look at.

Then again, next to Joan Collins...

So Joan Collins, who I guess is Wilma's mom, comes along to tell Wilma that she should never fraternize with the low-life townies, blah blah. You know where that's going. They head down to the party, where Wilma is laughed out of the place when she suggests the girls all head into Bedrock to go bowling. I'm with the scoffers on this one, myself. Who the fuck bowls for their bridal shower? Bring on the Neanderthal dancers who club you and drag you home by the hair. Alas, the only man to be had at this party is polo-playing stud Chip Rockefeller (what, was "Rock Hudson" too obvious?) (played by Thomas Gibson, aka Greg from Dharma & Greg) riding in astride...Yoshi?

Chip is the obligatory, one-dimensional jerk who wants the fair maiden's hand in marriage, apparently just because. He's an utter cliché, right down to the way he hisses about talking business with Wilma's dad and how he “wants to invest in a certain girl”. Ugh. The other girls try to talk reluctant Wilma into accepting the proposal with some really terrible rich girl jokes like “We'll go shopping together, and play tennis...and browbeat our husbands. Just like our mothers!”. You hear the cymbal crash in the distance, I swear.

That night, and inexplicably on a beach, Fred and Barney talk about their dead-end lives and how the only way to make life worth living is to get women. If you made them women and had them talking about men, this would be decried as sexist pap. As it is, I imagine feminists everwhere nodded their heads in agreement with every word. *steps off soap box* Anyway, this miserably boring scene is made even worse when Gazoo falls out of the sky. The boys are foolish enough to let the annoying bastard out of his capsule so he can start insulting them like a total prick whilst he floats about looking like the worst special effect ever. It's hard to explain in words, but basically imagine if someone moved a cut-out of a character all about in front of pre-recorded footage which is also moving all about, but not in a fashion that even remotely corresponds to the cut-out's movements. It looks like spastic bullshit, and when you couple it with the hokey claymation look of the alien, it's like what would happen if the guy who made Manos: The Hands of Fate discovered optical printing. F-A-K-E.

The next day, I guess (or maybe it's night where the boys are and day where Wilma is at the same time), Wilma is suddenly just in Bedrock and stumbles upon a drive-in diner ("Bronto King", oh ho ho) where she meets car hop waitress Betty (Jane Krakowski, who is so much hotter than she has any right to be in the ridiculous prehistoric get-up). Wilma is reluctant to order anything, since she forgot to bring her money when she ran off from home, and Betty mistakenly assumes she's a “caveless person” who needs some charity, and promptly invites Wilma to stay at her place.

Back on the dark side of town (seriously, did the editor really not notice the glaring continuity error here?), Fred and Barney get ready for bed when Gazoo asks them to start having the sex so he can observe. Barney seems all too willing to oblige...

...but Fred, not so much. Rather than bring the scene to a logical conclusion and then transitioning to the next, the film rather just shows the boys showing up at the drive-in so they can run into the girls (who have finally caught up to the night time) and get this movie over with that much quicker. And for that I can actually be thankful for lack of creativity. But before we get to the schtupping, we have to – for no good reason – have a bit where Fred finds out only he and Barney can see Gazoo, and thusly everyone thinks they're crazy folks talking to thin air. I have no fucking idea why. Anyway, Betty skates on up and Fred hits on her by acting like a drooling moron (no, really, he planned it this way) and IT WORKS AND SHE AGREES TO DATE HIM. And then she sets Barney up with Wilma so we can have that old “switcheroo” problem where everyone's with the wrong person and, oh no, will they ever straighten this out?

Yeah, they will. In fact, they realize the error in the next scene when they all go to a carnival and Barney and Betty chuckle at the ridiculous idea of a “Jurassic Park” ride (boy, that sure was witty) when they all have dinos as pets anyway, and they realize they have complimentary giggles. Really. So the two of them are off and having fun while Fred and Wilma are left alone to- Holy shit, Fred's wearing a digital watch

HELLO?! How do you not catch that? I'm having flashbacks to Charlton Heston's Rolex in The Ten Commandments.

Anyway, Fred and Wilma fall in love over bowling and wind up winning a dinosaur egg as their prize. An egg which soon thereafter hatches Dino, who is the latest in this film's endless barrage of horrible, cheap-looking latex puppets (sometimes a horrible, cheap, latex-looking CGI monstrosity. Or maybe claymation, I really can't be sure). And then it's back to the dark side of town as Fred walks his lady home and gives her a goodnight handshake, at least until Dino fixes things by tripping the two of them up so they can fall into each other's arms and kiss the least romantic kiss ever. And then - I swear to Christ – there's a romantic montage of the two couples set to “You Get What You Give” by The New Radicals, a song not only wildly inappropriate for this movie but one that was also passe and forgotten about by the time it came out.

Gee, that's not...totally nonsensical or anything. This is like the Double Dragon video game popping up in the Double Dragon movie. The movie's universe should have imploded at this impossible self-reference.

Anyway, that night (or on the dark side of town), Joan Collins (having given up completely on the prehistoric gimmick and now just wearing the kind of gaudy outfit she really does anyway) shows up at Betty and Wilma's apartment to drag Wilma home, but she won't go. So momma has to be a bitch and guilt trip Wilma into going by mentioning that dad's birthday is coming up and *sniffle* he might not have many more left, after all. And that's almost certainly true since papa Slaghoople is played by Harvey Korman, who looks positively ancient. Wilma invites Betty and the boys to come along, even though she's afraid they wouldn't like her if they knew she was from a rich family on the hill. Here's an idea: DON'T INVITE THEM THEN. But there they are and she's all nervous, like they “found her out” or something when she actually gave herself away. Fucking stupid.

And so we get a long, tedious scene of everyone discovering just how nice Wilma's house is in a lame duck effort on the movie's part to create tension when Fred decides against proposing marriage since the only ring he can afford looks measly next to the glorious plastic and foam-rubber antiques littering the awfully fake-looking Slaghoople estate. Also, we actually meet papa Slaghoople, who is senile and utterly convinced he's waging a war. I guess that's supposed to be funny. Eventually, Betty winds up telling Wilma off, which sends Wilma off to that balcony to ponder the matte painting again. But then papa shows up to give her her trademark pearl necklace because, oh ho, he thought it was her birthday (I swear I hear that cymbal crash in the distance).

Dinner goes rather uncomfortably, especially when Fred tries to make a toast and Joan Collins and Chip do their damnedest to shame him into shutting up, until Dino shows up (why? Dunno. How? Dunno.). Then it just gets loud and annoying. I love when Dino jumps into Fred's arms and suddenly becomes a puppet with Mark Addy's hand clearly up it's ass. Thems good special effects, they is. Joan Collins gets all mad and tosses the commoners out, prompting Wilma to denounce her family and run away with Fred and the gang because they're nice and mama's a bitch. Chip follows after and randomly invites everyone to Rock Vegas (Look out, it's the point of the whole damn movie!) to see the grand opening of his newest casino, to be celebrated with a concert by “Mick Jagged and the Stones”. Oh ho ho my, will the witty plays-on-words ever, um, begin?

So slam, bam, thank you ma'am we just immediately find ourselves in Rock Vegas, where a ten billion year-old Ann-Margaret, reprising her role of Ann Margrock from the cartoon, regales us with a wheezy gasbag rendition of “Viva Rock Vegas”, a not-so-subtle reference to the movie Viva Las Vegas, in which Ann-Margaret co-starred with Elvis. Seriously, I haven't heard anyone sound this in need of an oxygen tank since Orson Welles literally recorded the voice of Unicron for the cartoon Transformers movie from his death bed. So anyway, the gang have a goofy good time while Chip watches on thanks to surveillance cameras (?) and schemes to break Fred and Wilma up. A-Doi! We finally find out why (I guess “because” wasn't good enough for the first time ever): turns out Chip is actually near destitute and has been borrowing money from the mafia, and now they want it back. Wilma is loaded, and Chip intends to marry her and rob her parents blind to pay his debts. Gazoo watches all of this (he's been in most of the last few scenes, actually, though not doing much) and just finds it entertaining.

Speaking of Gazoo, he finally does something decent, believe it or not. Fred has been hitting it big at the craps tables, and Gazoo points out how funny it is that Fred rolls all winners in Chip's casino. Like some kind of...plot or something. But no, plot could never factor into the Flintstones, could it? Fred won't listen, of course, and soon Chip shows up and talks Fred into playing on the high roller tables. Even dopey old Barney can see the risks, but luckily he's easily distracted by food and Chip's showgirl hench-girlfriend and wanders off. But, oh dear, Betty spots Barney with the showgirl and seeks comfort in the arms of Mick Jagged (Alan Cumming, again). I've never seen a hammier Mick Jagger impersonation, but then again how else would you play it, really. The performance is awful, is the point. Mick, like his real-life counterpart, wastes no time talking the lovely lady into coming to his room. As for Fred, he just keeps on winning until Wilma gets fed up with his cash obsession. THAT'S when Chip calls off the fix so Fred can lose. Well if Wilma already got angry, why's Fred need to lose? Just to rub salt in the wound? Wow, Chip is almost becoming an actual character. Of course, Wilma likes Fred better when he's poor, so really this is all destined to backfire.

So Fred loses everything and finds himself massively in debt to Chip, who says he'll forgive it all if Fred just leaves Bedrock forever and gives Wilma over. Fred isn't down with that so Chip steals Wilma's pearls from the vault, plants them on Fred and pulls the theft alarm so all the guests, including Wilma, will be in the lobby to witness Fred being caught with the pearls. But not before a bunch of other people admit to other crimes, including one guy fessing up to poisoning all the dinosaurs to drive them to extinction. Heavy. Anyway, Chip asks Fred to empty his pockets and he obliges, revealing the necklace. Of course, if he was willing to empty the pockets, that seems to me at least evidence if not proof that he didn't know they were there. I mean, what thief just gives himself away? Why would anyone believe he really did it? I don't get this movie cliché no matter how many times I see it. Security drags Fred off to jail and, hey, why not collar Barney while we're at it? Why? Because!

Although the jail cell is fitted with bars so widely-spaced you could drive a car through them, the boys are just hopelessly trapped. Gazoo shows up and even though he's only supposed to observe, Fred and Barney try to talk him into helping by doing a crying act. But then Barney just, ya know, walks out of the cell to get some tissues and it dawns on everyone that prehistoric prison operates on the honor system, and these dopes have no honor. They bust loose, steal some showgirl outfits and sneak into the casino. After being spotted by security, the boys take refuge in what turns out to be Mick and Betty's room and since Mick is a boring twat, Betty sure is glad to see Barney again. And when Barney lets it spill that the showgirl he was with was Chip's girlfriend, Betty realizes that – A-Doi! - if they tell Wilma Chip has a girlfriend, she won't marry him. And just for good measure Barney El Kabong's Mick (complete with the actual Quick Draw McGraw El Kabong sound effect) so Fred can go on stage with The Stones and sing a love song to Wilma. And then he proposes marriage and she says yes. What happened to the girlfriend?! So they get married and the wedding party (including William Hanna and Joseph Barbara themselves, on hand to witness the tragic death of their franchise) celebrates by singing the Flintstones theme song. Again, the universe ought to implode from the impossibility of it all.

“Death” is the operative term in that last sentence, because this whole movie feels funereal. The closing song and dance number is downright nihilistic, the attempted faux-gaiety being no match for the embarrassment and despair in everyone's eyes. There is no hope or meaning here, only suffering and, indeed, death. Viva Rock Vegas is a wretched film; from the scatter-brained plotting and heartless jokes to the ugly, fake-looking sets and hurried, sub-par special effects, this is one of the hokiest and cheapest-looking movies to reach theaters in recent years. Frankly, it looks like a Direct-to-Video title that got to the big screen only by mix-up (and since it's released by ever-inept Universal Studios, mix-up is far more likely than you might first think). There's probably a multi-million dollar big-budget flick that wound up DTV in this movie's place. Regardless, I refuse to believe that anyone intended for Viva Rock Vegas to wind up in cineplexes the world over. Back when Sony Cinemas were around and this kind of tripe would have been distributed to them by Cannon Films or TriMark? Sure. But in the year 2000, no way.

Viva Rock Vegas would barely pass as one of those Interactive Movie rides at a theme park. It's a total disaster as a feature film. It's not the worst thing I've ever reviewed*, and it certainly wouldn't come close to a Top Ten Worst list (or even Top Twenty or Thirty), but for the typical moviegoer, this would be the kind of thing you'd ask for a refund for. It's dreadful. Mark Addy is passable as Fred and Jane Krakowski is cute as Betty, but Kristen Thomas and in particular Stephen Baldwin are just the pits. They cannot act, never have been able to, and never will be able to. But even with that said, they sink to new lows of bad here. Thomas is as far from Wilma Flintstone as you can get; she's not nice, she's not pretty, she's not a good spouse and she's not attractive in any way. She's hammy and broad and not the least bit amusing. Baldwin is the death of thespianism. You've never seen a more grating Barney Rubble impersonation in your life. The voice is nails on a chalkboard, the mannerisms are equivalent to one of those mechanical cymbal-banging monkey toys, and the overall effect is sheer hateability. I loathed the man for every second he was on screen. His nomination for Worst Supporting Actor at the Razzie Awards was well-earned (though I will not dispute his loss to Barry Pepper from Battlefield Earth).

[*Granted: that may be only because I go out of my way to find truly horrible films that go way beyond the pale]

The sets are, frankly, an embarrassment to the art of production design. They tried really hard to emulate the look of the cartoon, but the problem is that everything looks like the plastic and foam-rubber it's made from rather than looking like actual rocks. They couldn't even be bothered to put real boulders in the freaking backgrounds (they opted for papier mache instead). The dinosaurs look terrible too, a combination of hokey puppets and pathetic CGI that don't live up to the standards of Sesame Street muppets let alone a theatrical film. I'd believe Kermit T. Frog was real before I'd buy into Dino or the Brontosaurus cranes.

This movie was clearly meant for the littlest of kids, but even they would be bored by it and I wouldn't take my kid to a movie with instances of the word “Fuck” anyway. How'd they get that past the censors, and what were they even thinking? This movie isn't totally appropriate for kids and it's too dumb for adults, so who's the true audience then? Looking at the receipts, no one.

I'm Redunbeck, and I'm off to the real Las Vegas to drink away the bad memories.


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Deep Ghoul said...

After having such a financial smash hit with the first Flintstones movie, they got so much wrong with this prequel.

In the cartoon, Barney was the smarter of the two, since he was always warning Fred about the consequences of his actions. In Viva Rock Vegas, he's retarded. I mean, how did Barney go from being retarded to a genius in the original 1994 film? Also, Fred was the one who ate a lot, not Barney.

I really like Barney, but this movie's portrayal of him really disgusts me.

Also, doesn't the scene where Chip monologues his evil plan seem very similar to what the 1994 film's villain Cliff Vandercave did?