The Croods| B-
For a movie that advocates taking more chances (a message that, come to think of it, Michigan could take to heart) the script for Dreamworks’ The Croods sure does turn a deaf ear to its own advice. Caught somewhere between Brave and The Flinstones, writer-directors Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders have fashioned a tepid, formulaic script filled with stereotypical characters and run-of-the-mill dialogue. There’s something depressing about the fact that The Croods could probably be watched by an audience anywhere in the world without subtitles and they wouldn’t miss a thing.
Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) is the safety-obsessed papa of a pre-historic nuclear cave family. Ugga (Catherine Keener) is his long-suffering wife, Thunk (Clark Duke) is his dutifully thick-headed son and Eep (a sassy Emma Stone) is his rebellious teenage daughter. Confined for long days inside the family cave — with tart-mouthed Gran (Cloris Leechman) and a feral toddler ala Bam-Bam — they only journey into the fantastical but lethal landscape outside in order to hunt and gather food.
Sneaking out one night, Eep runs into Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a caveman one step up on the evolutionary ladder. He’s handsome, smart and inventive (fire!). He also warns of a coming catastrophe. The earth’s tectonic plates are shifting and — wouldn’t you know it? — the Croods’ cozy cave is soon destroyed, sending them out into the much-feared wilderness. Dad’s close-mindedness is tested, Eep’s coming-of-age precociousness brings her closer to Guy, and a menagerie of primordial pets offer up comic relief. It’s the kind of film that evaporates from your memory soon after the final credits roll.
Where De Micco and Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon) shine, however, is in their luscious visual imagination and boisterous hyperkinetic action. Instead of filling their wonderfully immersive 3-D landscape with run-of-the-mill dinosaurs, the filmmakers concoct a world overrun with flying turtles, rainbow-colored saber-tooth tigers, piranha-like chickadees and mammoth land whales. Each frame is so densely packed with vibrant colors, textures and details that it’s hard to begrudge The Croods its cornball humor and half-realized father-daughter narrative. The movie is squarely aimed at younger audiences than, say, Shrek or the creatively exhausted Ice Age series, but offers plenty of lively chase scenes and goofy slapstick humor (the Crood’s introduction to fire is particularly funny).
The voice cast is equally spirited, with Nic Cage — beyond all expectations — bringing both range and playfulness to his patriarchal role.
Dreamworks is smart to release The Croods in March, beating the big box-office rush. It’s solid enough entertainment to bring a little box office heat but not nearly good enough to go toe-to-toe with the avalanche of blockbusters that’ll start hitting theaters in May.
Opens Friday nationwide.