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Prehistoric Rock

The Flintstones, ahem, go back in time for prequel. Old cast opts to stay put.

When the previews for The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas debuted, one imagines that the same thought entered everyone's mind: A Flintstones prequel? Did we really need this? Yes, the original made a lot of money, but that was five years ago, and let's be honest: It stretched the premise thin to begin with, despite having a rumored 25 different writers collaborating on the screenplay.

None of the original cast has returned for the prequel, save for Rosie O'Donnell, who puts in a brief cameo as an octopus. A large part of the first movie's appeal was simply seeing John Goodman as Fred Flintstone, a role many thought he was born to play. With him out of the picture (he apparently didn't want to be forever typecast in the role), much of the appeal has also disappeared, since it's probably not a big deal for the general public to see "that fat guy from The Full Monty" filling Fred's shoes, er, bare feet. And if we're to take this prequel nonsense seriously, we have to assume that Stephen Baldwin will grow up to be Rick Moranis, and Kristen Johnston will somehow lose about a foot in the process of becoming Elizabeth Perkins later in lifeŠ Never mind. Let's not bother trying to take it seriously.

Right off the bat, it should be said that anyone who hated the first movie will almost certainly hate this one, too. Brian Levant, a self-confessed obsessive Flintstones geek, is back in the director's chair, and there are four credited screenwriters again. (Want to take bets on the number of uncredited writers?) The jokes again run the gamut from hideous puns (Rock Vegas hotels include the Tardust and Molten Nugget) to reasonably witty (a circus sideshow boasts a "freak of nature, the 40-Year-Old Man"). The plot, what little there is, is almost exactly the same: Rich villain with slick hairdo (Thomas Gibson, nowhere near as charismatic as Kyle MacLachlan was) conspires to steal millions and make Fred the fall guy.

Meanwhile, because this is a prequel, we get to see how Fred and Barney met and courted their wives. Again it must be asked: Was anyone really dying to know this bit of back story? On the plus side, this film shares its predecessor's biggest assets: It's slavishly faithful to its source material (more so than just about any other Hollywood adaptation of any kind), and it eliminates the TV show's biggest debits, namely crappy animation and a laugh track.

Still, even if you're a fan, this stuff gets old after a while. Since the first film re-created the opening and end credits of the cartoon, along with many other moments in between, there's precious little left. Cartoon physics are still in effect, as we get to see pictorial thought balloons, eyes with dollar signs in them and Fred bowling on his tiptoes. We don't, however, get to see the one remaining cliché that the old show was famous for and the first movie didn't touch: Fred running through the house as the same backdrop repeats over and over. Please don't say they're saving it for a third movie.

Viva Rock Vegas's saving grace comes in the form of actor Alan Cumming, last seen as the spoiled prince in Titus. Cumming gives it his all as the Great Gazoo, that effeminate little green man from outer space who appeared in the TV show's final season. Like everything else from the cartoon, he has been absurdly literalized in the translation to live action -- a giant head with goofy antennae placed atop a tiny body. Dispatched by a race of similarly absurd little green men, Gazoo is sent to Earth to observe the human mating ritual (seeing Fred and Barney for the first time, he assumes that humans mate homosexually), which he does by generally being a pest, disappearing and reappearing with the sort of acidic wisecracks that all effeminate characters are required to have these days. Cumming also shows up sans special effects as Mick Jagged, an obvious yet still funny parody. The screen lights up when Cumming is on, but he's sadly absent from much of the film's middle.

The cast generally seems to be having fun, which isn't surprising given that the sets look like a giant theme park. Mark Addy does a fine job mastering not only an American accent, but also the very specific tones of Fred Flintstone. Jane Krakowski and Kristen Johnston, meanwhile, add more humanity to their respective roles as Betty and Wilma than did their predecessors. (Humanity? In cartoon roles? Feel free to laugh, but it's true.) It should be noted, though, that Johnston makes no effort to actually impersonate Wilma's voice. Baldwin, on the other hand, is all impersonation as Barney, and he is good at it, although he makes an irritating doofus expression throughout, which is not half as endearing as he or the director seems to think it is.

Once the novelty has worn off, however, which it does about halfway through the proceedings, there isn't much left. The script is strictly sitcom, and much of the special effects budget is focused on the first half of the movie, in which the dinosaurs appear. It's time to call it a day with this franchise. One can't exactly wish it a successful theatrical run, given that there are proposed live-action versions of Scooby-Doo and The Jetsons just waiting for the green light. The bottom line with Viva Rock Vegas is that it is exactly what it seems. It's hard to imagine anyone walking out of the theater extremely disappointed. The only problem is that you may have had enough already.

 
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