Shrek the Third Is Kind of a Turd
If you would’ve told me 10 years ago exactly how much mileage Mike Myers would get out of that crappy Scottish accent he does, I wouldn’t have believed you.
It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. He used it in So I Married An Axe Murderer, two Austin Powers sequels and countless “Saturday Night Live” skits. In 2001, he dusted it off for the title role in Shrek, a CGI fairy tale send-up that would become Dreamworks’ own Toy Story.
Six years, three Shreks and millions of product tie-ins later, his might be the most valuable bad impression in the history of comedy.
It’s only one hallmark of a franchise that, even at its best, has always come off a bit reheated and mediocre, thanks in part to its clunky celebrations of pop-culture ephemera. The first two Shrek films were fine, if never quite as clever as their relatives over at Pixar. But with Shrek the Third, a dull, predictable return to a sass-mouth fantasy world, the carriage wheels come off and the cute dries up.
The film opens as Shrek and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) bid farewell to Fiona’s father, the king of Far, Far Away, who on his deathbed names Shrek his heir to the throne. But Shrek, still anti-social after all these years, wants none of the trappings of a regal life, and goes in search of a suitable replacement in Arthur (Justin Timberlake), a teenage bully magnet at a medieval John Hughes-style high school.
While Shrek, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss (Antonio Banderas) are away on their latest quest, the jilted Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) stages a coup in the kingdom, flooding the streets with villains like Captain Hook and Snow White’s wicked stepmother, claiming Far, Far Away for literature’s losers.
First, the good: All the Shrek films look fantastic, and the third reaches a new high. The colors are vibrant, the characters’ movements ever more lifelike and the visual gags, such as they are, are well-timed.
As I’ve said in many a CGI-kiddie-movie review, however, that doesn’t quite cut it anymore. We’re at a point now where overtly bad special effects are becoming more and more rare, so it’s almost a given that anything bearing a major-studio stamp will look crisp and expensive.
The problem here, as usual, is the content. Much like Spider-Man 3, another recent event movie that failed to deliver anything besides giant box office revenues, Shrek the Third has become a victim of overexposure, but it’s a bad film for its own reasons. Spidey 3 was clearly reaching for something, but fell short in the execution.
Shrek the Third, by contrast, is more of the same, but after three films it just doesn’t work anymore. The characters, with the exception of bit players like Pinocchio and the Ginger Bread Man, have ceased to be even a little bit charming, and the jokes are insipid and predictable.
On that point: The writers’ favorite tools seem to be stuff like adding the words “Ye Olde” to cultural touchstones like Foot Locker and Hooters, and appending “-eth” to modern slang words (as in “this movie sucketh”), all half-hearted stabs at wit, none of which break the skin. Other attempts to acknowledge the source material – in lines like “What in the Hans Christian Anderson are we gonna do now?” – are similarly awkward and mirthless.
Shrek the Third also comes several years after the advent of the Big Animated Movie featuring Celebrity Voices, and man, are they out in force this time. The presence of Diaz and Timberlake is surely enough to satisfy any People magazine subscriber, but add Everett, Regis Philbin and “The Office” star John Krasinski to the mix, alongside a host of others, and you’ve got little more than a CGI-enhanced episode of “Access Hollywood.”
And then there’s Myers’ increasingly grating presence, the centerpiece of this red carpet orgy. By now, he must be considered an elder in that exclusive fraternal order founded by Robin Williams, comprised of male comics who pop up everywhere, often as the same character, running their shtick into the ground (Ben Stiller and Jack Black are its most recent pledges). I loved Wayne’s World as much as the next 12-year-old, but really, if you never saw Myers again, or if he retired for years to some obscure Scottish village to perfect his craft, would you experience even a moment’s remorse?
Despite all that, the film’s biggest problem is that it’s a fairy tale reimagined as a crappy sitcom. The further the franchise goes, the more it starts to resemble the latter, and the more exhausting it becomes. There’s the curmudgeonly lead, the kooky next-door neighbor (Donkey), the understanding wife (Fiona) and the bumbling villain (Charming). The fact that there are knights jousting in the background doesn’t add to the hilarity. All that’s missing from this cornball stew is the laugh track, which is unfortunate, because the theater audience surely won’t supply it.
Glen Baity would like to note that he did, in fact, chuckle out loud when the Ginger Bread Man pooped a gumdrop. To comment, send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.