Bee Movie (PG)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
Since Jerry Seinfeld has spent most of the last decade out of the pop-culture spotlight perhaps bathing in his Seinfeld-syndication residuals like a lanky Scrooge McDuck you figure he'd only dive back in if he had a really good reason.
Indeed, the fervor with which he has devoted himself to promoting his animated creation, Bee Movie, suggests that he wants to prove he still has something in the tank. And the animated format of Bee Movie seems like both a perfect match for Seinfeld and an unexpected choice for his big-screen debut.
We know he's quick-witted and savvy, but what would he do in a genre that generally depends on sentimentality the one thing Seinfeld conspicuously, determinedly avoided at all costs?
The result is something just about as uneven as that improbable pairing might suggest. Seinfeld provides the voice of Barry Benson, a bee just graduated from college in Hive City. He and best pal Adam (the voice of Matthew Broderick) are faced with choosing a job they'll be required to stay in their entire lives a prospect that greatly alarms Barry. Taking a chance on a trip outside the hive before committing to that lifetime of drudgery, Barry encounters humans for the first time, including a kindly florist named Vanessa (Rene Zellweger). He also encounters the reality that humans consume honey and what's worse, they appear to profit from the bees' labor while offering nothing in return.
Because computer-animation bylaws apparently demand it, Bee Movie includes plenty of gags based on anthropomorphizing its bee characters. Seinfeld and his three co-writers including a pair of veteran Seinfeld staffers drop in cracks about being attracted to your own cousin, or using honey as hair gel.
But Seinfeld also isn't afraid to drop in a sly visual reference to The Graduate, or to turn a bee-world cameo by Larry King into an extended riff on how there's also a human Larry King who looks and acts exactly the same. That's the Jerry we've come to know and love.
In fact, Bee Movie boasts a fair number of funny individual jokes. What it lacks is any idea how to tie them all together.
Initially, it appears like a variation on the standard animated plot of one unique individual trying to stand out from the crowd (see: Dumbo, Antz, Happy Feet, etc.). Gradually, it morphs into a swipe at corporate avarice, with the honey company tied to "Honeyburton" and "Honron," and a blustering attorney (John Goodman) challenging Barry in court.
The ultimate frustration of Bee Movie is that it nods to Seinfeld's own distinctive sensibilities but can't help retreating to safe platitudes. He's daring enough that he'll introduce the potential obligatory wise-cracking sidekick, then immediately chuck him from the plot, but he also allows directors Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith to squeeze in so many fast-paced action sequences, the story feels like it goes by in a blur.
Bee Movie feels like it should have been the animated equivalent of a Seinfeld episode no plot per se, just a bunch of funny situations spinning out of Seinfeld's imagination. Every attempt the story makes at an overarching narrative winds up jumbled. The result is a movie about ... well, about nothing.