[Reading time: 5 minutes]
American, Animation / Mystery / Comedy, 2012, directed by Lawrence “Larry” Kasanoff, starring Charlie Sheen, Eva Longoria, Wayne Brady, Hilary Duff and Christopher Lloyd, Threshold Entertainment / Lionsgate
This year’s surprise adults-only animation hit Sausage Party, a raunchy Seth Rogen vehicle, wasn’t the first animated film set inside a supermarket. In 2000, production started on another similar film that would feature an all-star cast, gorgeous 3D animation, and many cameos from famous advertisement mascots; this was to be Toy Story in a supermarket. Following a series of incidents including long licensing negotiations to get the mascots in the film, the hard drives being stolen in 2002, and lack of funds, the cartoon came out direct-to-video in 2013. This was to be director Larry Kasanoff’s masterpiece. How wrong can one man be? Food Fight is not so much Toy Story in a supermarket. It’s more like Casablanca in a dirty gas station toilet.
Food Fight is one of those films that rips off a good movie (Casablanca), hoping to be just as good as it was, and failing terribly. In a supermarket where fast food mascots called “ikes” come alive at night, biscuit ike Dex Dogtective (voiced by Charlie Sheen, impersonating Humphrey Bogart) wants to marry raisin ike Sunshine Goodness the cat (Hilary Duff), but she vanishes mysteriously and Dex has a nervous breakdown. Retiring from the detective business, he opens a nightclub with his friend Daredevil Dan the chocolate squirrel (Wayne Brady), but the villainous Lady X (Eva Longoria) and her Brand X army invade the supermarket with an evil scheme which is… um… wait… D’oh! The story is too complicated to recap, gave me more headaches than Euclidian long division, and the story goes in more directions than a man being pulled apart by horses.
I might as well say something nice about the film while I still have patience for it: the voice acting is the best part. Of course, Charlie Sheen, Eva Longoria, Wayne Brady and Hilary Duff are all C-listers today, but they were very popular when production began in 2002. While Brady’s “black best friend” is a rip-off of Sam in Casablanca (again!) and constant annoyance, Sheen is great, giving Dex a Batman-like growl that suits the character while also allowing him to “be Charlie Sheen”. Eva Longoria delivers each line with utter relish, suffusing her performance with breathy, suggestive, oozing sexuality that seems appropriate for her “femme fatale” character. Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown in Back to the Future, Fester in Addams Family) is a delight as secondary antagonist Mr. Clipboard, even though he’s doing what he always does – he’s definitely a “character actor”. Hilary Duff’s voice is stellar, impassioned, and cracking with emotion even though her lines are duff (OK, I won’t make this a running gag like the Melissa Joan Hart puns!), despite only having 20 minutes’ screentime. I truly admire Hilary Duff because, despite virtually never starring in a good movie, she will unwaveringly commit to even the most execrable B-movie as if it were Oscar bait, and she’s just as likable in this film, as she was in the many other equally-schlocky kids’ films you remember from your childhood (Lizzie McGuire, A Cinderella Story, Cheaper By the Dozen, etc. – oh great, now I’ve got her song Wake Up stuck in my head!).
Kasanoff used a “motion capture” system (also known as “rotoscoping”) to make the film more lifelike, but none of the effort is visible onscreen, as the characters flap their mouths to speak and gaze into the distance with their cold, emotionless eyes: I’ve seen better graphics in the average GameCube or PS2 game. Characters either shuffle along like rusted robots, or bounce around in unnatural ways, like jelly; the laws of physics are defied in practically every frame, which is most obvious towards the end, when the titular food fight occurs, and all kinds of food (pies, watermelons, etc.) have the same generic “slime splatter” effect as they hit the ground. The camera swoops, swerves and swivels around at a dizzying speed, and even a simple conversation is accompanied by a constant 180° spin. The terrible texturing and lousy layouts don’t help either. As for the character designs, well, everyone (except Dex) looks like some sort of disgusting freak of nature; Sunshine is a Mew-Mew Power-esque cat-human hybrid who should’ve stayed on the Island of Dr. Moreau, the villains have skin like unripe potatoes, there’s a man whose nose takes up a fifth of his body, and recurring gag character Cheasel T. Weasel has a fur that’s the exact same color, shape and texture as excrement. Speaking of excrement, (ugh, who thought I’d ever type such a horrid sentence?), the whole film looks like it, with reused animation cycles, clippings, glitches, and other technical errors across the board. Food Fight is not just an eyesore, it’s a crime against the entire animation industry – and I’m a huge cartoon fan.
Then there’s the jokes. People sneezing, burping and farting in each other’s faces. You might say “Oh, but cartoons are for kids anyway!”, but I disagree. The cartoon geniuses at Disney, Pixar, or Hanna-Barbera never talked down to kids or assumed them to be stupid. Here, on the other hand, every line of dialogue is written like something out of Dora the Explorer, lest those stupid children not understand.
One little note about the film’s main selling point, which is the presence of advertising mascots: of the myriad of “ikes” featured, the only ones I recognized were the California Raisins and Mr. Clean. The others mostly represent obscure American brands that I had to Google to make sure they even existed. I was hoping to see Ronald McDonald, Uncle Ben, the M&Ms, the Nesquik Bunny or the Coco Pops Monkey, but all I got was some silly US tuna fish mascot I’d never heard of called Charlie the Tuna.
Finally, I’d just like to point out that if this was ever meant to be a children’s movie, is the most inappropriate one I’ve ever seen. Like Howard the Duck, the script is chock-full of sexual innuendo, mostly coming from Longoria’s seductress Lady X. There are also many ethnic caricatures, such as Irishmen, Inuits, a French cheese, a Chinese dragon, and the Wayne Brady squirrel: it’s not exactly offensive (it’s more Looney Tunes than Family Guy), but it’s certainly not family-friendly either. This is made worse by the film’s schizoid tone, alternating between cute hijinks, and scenes of ikes getting killed (including an elephant killed with a dentist’s drill, and a scene where Dex is told that hundreds of ikes have died), with the end result of an unnecessarily dark and creepy undercurrent that will probably scare the euphemism out of children rather than entertain them. Worst of all is the gratuitous and flagrant use of Nazi imagery, with Lady X’s army clad in grotesque black military uniform, parades of armed generalissimos goose-stepping around like something out of a Leni Riefenstahl film, and the plot involving the systematic extermination of “undesirable” ikes, giving this film a higher body count than Man of Steel (L’Uomo d’Acciaio).
To conclude, this may very well be the worst animated movie that I have ever seen, and that’s coming from someone who really enjoyed Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (Scooby-Doo e l’Isola degli Zombi). It has none of the charm of the legendary Disney and Pixar classics, its animation is uglier than Quasimodo’s drunken uncle, it’s more sexualised than a DeviantArt Sonic the Hedgehog fanart board, and the Nazi imagery is cringeworthy. The whole thing is just so ridiculous that you’ll probably be chuckling throughout, as usual on the Cinematic Calamity, but even for the Master of Movie Disaster, Food Fight is just a little too much to bear. For every “so bad it’s good” moment, there’s a “so bad it’s just bad” moment, and as for “so good it’s good” moments, there are absolutely zero across the film’s entire 75-minute runtime, save for some outstanding voice acting from Longoria, Duff, Lloyd and Sheen. But hopefully, the production company will have learned from their mistakes, right? Wrong! They’ve just greenlit a trilogy of films based on Tetris. Swing low, sweet chariot…
Grade: 4 out of 10.
Recommended for: nobody, child or adult, except for those of you who are masochistic enough to see it out of morbid curiosity, and the die-hard fans of the actors involved.
Next week, the Master of Movie Disaster will get down to some monkey business with his review of KING KONG VS GODZILLA!