Shrek the Third (PG)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
It's not even summer yet, but already it's the summer of the three-quel.
And, already, we're oh-no for two.
Shrek the Third? It's ... fine. It's fine. But it's not Shrek. Or Shrek 2. Shrek's deconstruction of fairy tales managed to be both deliciously subversive and heartwarmingly traditional. Shrek 2 stunned in that it was even smarter and slyer and more seditious than the first.
But guess what? Just as Sam Raimi's first two Spidey outings ruined us for Spider-Man 3, Shrek and Shrek 2 ruined us for Shrek the Third.
We're primed, now, for the tweaking of fairy tales and the post-ironic spin on myths and mythmaking. We've seen it. We've been around the park twice, bought the T-shirt and the Shrek ears, sent a postcard home.
Now we're bored.
What else ya got?
More of the same?
Granted, there is some humor here. And the animation is even more gorgeous than it was in the last two films. (Finally, skin tones look like skin, and not like plastic.) Eddie Murphy's Donkey is still charming, too, and Antonio Banderas' Puss In Boots is still funny even if both of them have been reduced to more standard sidekick roles for the big green guy. Mike Myers' Shrek is still a lovable slob, Rupert Everett's Prince Charming is still hissably evil.
But Shrek the Third just clips along, with its story about Shrek inheriting the throne of Far Far Away and so desperately not wanting it that he goes in search of the next-in-line, Arthur (the voice of Justin Timberlake), who's off in Ye Olde Medieval High School a ship's journey away. Why Fiona (the voice of Cameron Diaz) can't take throne is a huge mystery: She's the actual daughter of the king, not a relation by marriage.
(Apparently, Far Far Away is more hidebound by sexist tradition than we'd realized.)
Anyway, keeping Fiona off the throne keeps her free to try to fend off a palace coup by Charming with the help of some other fairy-tale gals while Shrek is off seeking Artie.
But that's minor quibbling.
The big quibble is this: Third isn't anything more than what it is on the surface. The first two Shreks weren't just stories about an ogre who wanted to be left alone; they were also thrillingly insightful theses on modern attitudes toward (and modern reactions to) fairy tales, mythology and our love-hate relationship with a consumer culture in which repackaged entertainment serves vastly different purposes than older legends used to serve.
It would take a lot of tortured exposition to shoehorn Shrek the Third into anything like that. The first two Shreks breathed so naturally on those many levels, but this effort exists on only one as fluff.
It exists comfortably there, but still. The gags of the wizard Merlin as a hippie and the Gingerbread Man's life flashing before his eyes are only so funny. The same can be said for the idea that all the unhappy characters from fairy tales Captain Hook, ugly stepsisters, Pinocchio's puppet master could want their happily-ever-afters, too.
These bits slip by, doing little more than ensuring that Shrek the Third, unlike its predecessors, never has the weight of relevance, and is never anything more than a passing fancy.