directed by Anthony Leondis
written by Chris McKenna
starring John Cusack, Eddie Izzard, John Cleese, Molly Shannon, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes, Jennifer Coolidge, Jay Leno, Christian Slater, Arsenio Hall
The untold truth beckons and fawns. A social order is created to exclude joy and tyranny of sunshine. A misshapen freak to the perfect order is born and bound for essential servitude without the merest potentiality of grinding out of his sorry, prefabricated state of lowest existence. Then one is born who questions the order and reacts to his surroundings with dreaded curiosity and perceives the world as if he too were one of those elevated beings who naturally lords over those beneath. In this world, one of the forgotten is called Igor just like all the rest. Only he has learned to see far beyond the limits of his condition and into realms of beauty, capacity, longingness that remain obscure to all the others.
Igor (Cusack) is the slave of Dr. Glickenstein (Cleese), one of the many “Evil Geniuses” who are competing in the only competition that matters in a tiny burg called Malaria. This used to be a lovely place where everyone lived happy little lives and the weather was always temp perfect. Then, a mysterious cloud formation came in and never left, leaving the town gloomy to the core and all its inhabitants broke, desperate, and miserable. From the ashes rose the great leader King Malbert (Leno) who originated the idea for the competition where the “evil” inventions fight to the death to determine who is the most evil one of all. The idea of evil, or evil itself is a theme that runs throughout this film. It informs many scenes although it’s essentially aesthetic.
Dr. Glickenstein dies while attempting to create a rocket ship leaving Igor with the chance he has always dreamed of. So, he goes to work on his big project, in which, like Dr. Frankenstein, he creates life. The result is a giant womanish creature named Eva (Shannon), large in stature and coquettish in demeanor. The only problem is she’s not evil enough. Her evil bone didn’t kick in and Igor tries desperately to make her evil but only manages to turn her into an inspiring actress. From there we have the major aspects of the plot.
The film is computer animated and does manage to create a world that seems worth taking a peek into. The characters all work within the context of the film mainly because the voice work is all up to par. The basic themes in this film are universal and have been explored with more depth and precision elsewhere. The pacing suffers occasionally and the entire production suffers an unseemly stamp of not being particularly special. It feels quite often like a second or even third tier animated film and not something that is ever going to make much of a social impact. Still, the story is solid and it’s impossible not to root for the twisted little imp. Cusack does a fine job getting us to believe in Igor’s majestic plight for greatness.
Everyone can relate to that one massive idea that won’t let us be until we make our best effort to actualize it. Couple that with a paralyzing socio-political landscape and you have the recipe for massive amounts of frustration. We never get an indication of how consumed by this state Igor was because he’s just such a dopey believer from start to finish. He goes about his business for his boss (“pull the switch”) with at least enough conviction not to draw considerable attention to himself. But he is not someone who lets a bit of social pariah-hood stand in his way of satisfying the edicts of his one big idea. With the help of a rabbit named Scamper (Buscemi) that Igor has brought back to life and rendered immortal and a life support robot named Brain (Hayes) that he’s jacked up with a human brain–Igor strives to make the best living thing he possibly can. His work pays off in a big way.
Eva is every prima donna actress who considers everywhere she is at to be a stage. She’s coy, flirtatious, and dreamy. She’s always giddy about the prospects of performing and just can’t seem to think of much else. Her entire brain has become saturated in all things theatrical and reacts to her environment as if it were giving her cues for her lines or where she is supposed to stand on stage.
This is a film about a hated leader who rises out of disaster from obscurity to take control of a once proud nation. How he did it and what is motivations are become revealed in the final act and it’s pretty ingenious to discover the meat behind his motivations. The key thing is to remember that his control over the town is absolute as the film begins. He’s not particularly heinous despite his devotion to all things evil. He clearly enjoys the stage as much as Eva and has great theatrics in mind regarding his own impressive scheme. His art reaches people where they live and is much more effective than anything one can find in a museum or at a theater. Plus it is relentless and nobody can remember when it didn’t exist and it certainly creates a particular mood.
One of the attempts of humor that is persistent is Scamper the rabbit’s multi attempts to kill himself over the course of the film until he inexplicably decides he wants to live. I suppose this is cute for the tots who really ought to be studying cartoon on new ways to end it all but it isn’t funny the first time and grates every time after that. Indeed, there really isn’t anything humorous in this film despite several attempts to say something cute in hopes that people might latch onto it and turn it into one of those dreadful catchphrases that can drag a dead film a few extra miles down the road. Still, there are moments of vitality which lift the film above the solely pedestrian. When Eva is wrecked and hell bent on mass destruction her eyes have a certain hypnotic power to them. The relationship between Dr. Schadenfreude (Izzard) and his little vixen Jaclyn (Coolidge) who ostensibly can transform herself into dozens of women including a terrifying pancake flipper named Heidi is strangely perverse. He can make her, turn her out, and make it with the next one and never have to get tired of the same old thing. Jaclyn is his major dish and she has a feisty bondage babe essence about her which would ensure that she would spin him around when he wasn’t obsessively trying to steal someone else’s entry into the competition.
The engine that drives this thing is of course the idea that all the little guy needs is some space to move and he too can become one of the anointed. It’s the dream of every would be entrepreneur who has been long harboring ideas that they firmly believe have the potential to revolutionize the market place and the way people live. Igor required fate to step in to rescue him from the monotony of his predictable life. A great and terrible thing had to happen for him to finally appear ready on life’s stage able to make things happen for himself. Igor carries with him from the beginning the ability to do something that no other scientist in his world has ever managed to do. He creates a living, breathing and thinking being capable of the widest range of human emotions (perhaps many more we have hardly tapped into) which means that when he too becomes evil he can create an entire race of superbeings who will take over the entire town and enslave the population. At least that’s how I hope it will all turn out.
The performances in this film are all quite excellent. John Cusack gives Igor a fascinating combination of idealism and humility. Igor is also something of a visionary because he sees beyond the simple sense appeal of total evil and into some sort of place where it doesn’t necessarily take hold of the population so crucially. Molly Shannon establishes Eva’s lilting, passionate yearning for something vast and grand. Out of scraps, a truly unique spirit springs forth demanding an essential shift in perception. Eddie Izzard provides just enough demonic fervor to his character without taking him too far over the top. The mad doctor is possessed of a desire for greatness that Izzard exploits with various tics and mannerisms. Steve Buscemi creates a character scorched and corn fed that is believable throughout. Jennifer Coolidge pulls double duty and manages to create two distinct characters of pulsating, feminine charm.
Overall, this film doesn’t quite maintain its energy level throughout. At some point it starts to fizzle out and subsequent sequences lack any necessity they might otherwise have enjoyed. It’s an enjoyable film that certainly has all the right parts in place but the final product is underwhelming. There aren’t any moments of sheer absurdity or even anything that is particularly off-kilter or exciting. It’s merely a cute computer animated feature with little or no qualities that allow it to stand out from the pack. It’s mostly fluff and quite forgettable in the end. The characters are well formulated and the voice work is impressive enough to carry it to a certain point but once that point is cross it just becomes apparent that there isn’t much else here to keep this film afloat.