Megamind an animated treat for all ages, and an Eastern take on Blood Simple

by Mark Burger

A surefire crowd pleaser — whether viewed in 3-D or not — Megamind is an enjoyable entertainment for all ages. Kids will groove to the slapstick comedy and eye-popping animation, while adults can savor the non-stop barrage of pop-culture riffs. It’s fast-paced and funny, and it doesn’t skimp on presentation.

Will Ferrell, having a very good time being bad, provides the voice for the title character, a blue-hued egghead whose oversized noggin is full of nasty ideas. For the citizens of Mega City, Megamind is a constant threat… at least until his schemes are thwarted, which they always are by his sworn enemy, the self-assured superhero Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt). No matter how brilliant or fiendish — or both — his plans are, Megamind never wins.

Metro Man is always triumphant, thereby earning him the adulation of the populace and the adoration of news reporter Roxanne Ritchie (voice by Tina Fey). Megamind ends up with a one-way ticket to the slammer or local loony bin — at least until he hatches an escape plan, at which point the game starts afresh.

It’s enough to make a guy who’s blue turn even more blue.

But every villain gets his day, and when Megamind seemingly vanquishes Metro Man, no one is more surprised than Megamind himself. Evil has emerged victorious. Metro City is now held in the grip of the malevolent Megamind.

Now what? In a classic example of “Be careful what you wish for,” Megamind soon finds himself in what might be described as an existential quandary: What’s a super-villain to do once he has defeated the superhero?

Our (anti-)hero decides to create his own nemesis, using Roxanne’s nerdy cameraman Hal (voiced by Jonah Hill) as his guinea pig. But the experiment works a little too well, and the emergent “Titan” proves to be meaner and nastier than Megamind intended. In fact, he’s even meaner and nastier than Megamind himself!

Now, the only one who can save the day is, indeed, the very same Megamind who causes all of this chaos in the first place. Animated movies aren’t usually known for their ironic tone, but Megamind plays out that notion — and very successfully.

With Ferrell gleefully leading the charge, aided and abetted by David Cross as his loyally sycophantic sidekick Minion, the all-star voiceover cast brings an expectedly sharp comic timing to the proceedings.

Not unlike this summer’s Despicable Me, Megamind’s protagonist is the antagonist. Since the bad guys have all the best lines, why not build the entire story around one? Megamind, however, is an improvement over Despicable Me, which was undeniably entertaining but boasted more than a fair share of lags in pacing. All the way around, Megamind is smoother and more consistently funny.

Of course, Despicable Me is one of the year’s biggest box-office hits and it would be no surprise, nor unjustified, if Megamind became likewise. It’s highly likely that this film will bring some early holiday cheer to DreamWorks and Paramount. Big box-office a happy studio makes!

A preponderance of Asian films have been remade over the decades. In recent years, however, it’s usually the horror films that undergo the “Americanized” treatment. For the few that have worked (The Ring, for example), there have been many that didn’t (The Ring Two, for example).

A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop (opening Friday) is director Zhang Yimou’s “Eastern” take on Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1984 feature debut Blood Simple. Originally titled San Qiang Pai An Jing Qi and released in some territories under the (smarter) title A Simple Noodle Story, the film works as both a snappy homage to the earlier film and a quirkier-than-usual change of pace for director Yimou.

The action has been transposed from dusky, noir-ish Texas to feudal China. Ne Dahong plays Wang, the wealthy owner of a prosperous noodle shop who discovers that his young wife (Yan Ni) is carrying on an illicit affair with Li (Xiao Shenyang). Understandably irate and determined to salvage his honor, he procures the services of Zhang (Sun Honglei), a samurai warrior with a sullied past, to eliminate them both.

So far, so good — and so very much like Blood Simple, right down to the elements of black comedy that made Blood Simple so memorable.

Those viewers familiar with the earlier film can savor the subtle — and not-sosubtle — alterations that Yimou and Xu Zhenghau screenwriters Xu Zhenghau and Shi Jianquan have brought to the proverbial table. As remakes go, this is a good one — respectful of its source material yet not hesitant to take a few detours, add a bit of seasoning, and establish its own identity.

Even audiences unfamiliar with Blood Simple will find this an interesting, and certainly offbeat, example of Yimou’s directorial and zeal. Blood Simple was odd, and so is A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop — but in a good way. It’s been constructed with respect, yet is not so fawningly reverent that it doesn’t work on its own terms.

(In Mandarin with English subtitles)