Reel Opinions

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Last summer, there was a little movie released around this time called Sky High. It certainly wasn't anything great, but it was enjoyable and had some good performances to its credit. Now we have Zoom, which shares a somewhat similar premise, but without the charm. Directed by Peter Hewitt (Garfield, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey), Zoom is a nearly 90-minute collection of music montages in search of a plot and a purpose. It claims to be a superhero comedy for kids, but there's too little action to keep kids excited (Heck, the villain of the story doesn't appear until there's only 10 minutes left in the movie.), and despite the best efforts of a game cast, no actual laughs to make the film worthwhile. While Zoom is nowhere near as bad as its ad campaign makes it out to be, it definitely falls short of everything it aspires to be.

30 years ago, Jack Shepard (Tim Allen) was known as Zoom, the fastest man in the universe and the head of a team of superheroes that were part of a top secret military project. Tragedy struck when an experiment to increase the team's powers went wrong, and turned Jack's older superhero brother Connor (Kevin Segers) evil. The entire team, except for Jack, was killed by Connor, and the two brothers had to fight each other. In the end, Connor was banished to an alternate dimension, and Jack stepped down from being a superhero, vowing never to use his powers again.

In the present day, Jack is forced back into service by the stern military General Larraby (Rip Torn). Connor is apparently set to return to Earth in just a few days, and Jack must train some young recruits for a new team. With the help of eager young scientist and comic book geek, Marsha Holloway (Courtney Cox), and old friend Dr. Grant (Chevy Chase), Jack has only a short time to turn this band of misfits into true superheroes. The new team includes a fat kid named Tucker who can expand every part of his body (Spencer Breslin), a shy outcast girl named Summer who has telekinetic powers (Kate Mara), a rebellious young man named Dylan (Michael Cassidy) with the power of invisibility, and a cute as a button little girl named Cindy (Ryan Newman) who possesses superhuman strength. With Jack's guidance, they will gain the ability to control their own powers and work together for the good of the world.

The motto during the making of Zoom seems to have been "When all else fails, throw in a music montage". I wouldn't be surprised to discover if there was actually less than an hour devoted to this film that was not set to a pop song. (Most of which are performed by Smash Mouth, giving the film a somewhat dated feel.) Screenwriters Adam Rifkin (Small Soldiers) and Michael Berenbaum (Elf) don't seem to know what to do with their own material, as they develop their characters as little as possible. We get some introductory scenes for Jack and the kids, they're brought to the military base, and then we get an endless series of music montages as the kids learn to use their powers, with scenes of Jack arguing with the Courtney Cox character thrown in-between. The kids themselves are either thinly developed or not given any personality whatsoever. (It's been less than an hour since my showing got out, and I honestly cannot remember one thing about that Tucker kid other than he could enlarge his body parts.) With nothing for us to become emotionally attached to the characters, we simply watch the scenes play out, not really feeling anything.

What's most bizarre is that for a superhero movie, there is surprisingly little threat or sense of urgency. The main plot revolves around Jack's evil brother returning to Earth, but nobody really seems quite as concerned as they should be. Heck, they even have time for a game of softball. (Set to a music montage, of course.) To be fair, Jack and the kids don't know the full extent of the urgency of the situation, but you'd think the group (especially Jack) would be suspicious as to why the military was suddenly starting the superhero program up again, and giving them such a strict deadline. Strangely, not one character asks why they're being placed under such rigorous training in such a short amount of time. And when evil Connor finally does show up in the closing moments of the movie, the battle is over so quickly that it almost doesn't seem to have even started. We never get a sense as to why Jack was such a famed hero that he got his own comic book back in his glory days, nor do we get a sense as to why the kids are suddenly ready to fight at the end, as they seem to have the same amount of control over their powers at the end of the movie that they did at the beginning. And a last minute revelation about Courtney Cox's character seems like a scream of desperation on the part of the writers.

If the movie itself stinks, at least the cast puts on a game face for the most part, and don't let it look like the material fazes them. Tim Allen pretty much gives the same performance he gave in the vastly superior Galaxy Quest (Still his best film to date, not counting the animated Toy Story films) as the sarcastic and self-defeated Jack who must look within himself to find the ability to believe in himself again. Courtney Cox is likeable, but the filmmaker's decision to have her be clumsy and trip over everything works about as well as it did for Julianne Moore in Evolution. (In other words, not very well.) Chevy Chase may be far from his glory days on Saturday Night Live and the original National Lampoon's Vacation, but he at least gives a spirited performance. The real stand out, however, is 6-year old Ryan Newman as the super strong Cindy, who all but steals every scene she's in, and generates the only laughs held within the movie. She's a relative newcomer who had a minor role in the animated Monster House previously, but I think she could be on to good things provided she can get some better material to work with.

Unlike the previously mentioned Sky High, Zoom does not seem to care about its characters or their personal problems. It's hinted from time to time that the kids have been dropped off in the program by their parents out of embarrassment of their powers, but this idea is not even fully developed or touched upon, the film opting instead to fill its running time with montages and scenes where the kids play pranks on the adults with their powers. You can see some workable ideas under the film's surface, but they are betrayed by the overall superficial feel of everything else about the production. Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios were obviously hoping to cash in on the flood of superhero films hitting the cinemas the past couple years, but Zoom does absolutely nothing with itself and has only the cast to carry it. Unlike the heroes of the film itself, the cast just isn't enough to save the day in the end.

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