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Monday, March 18,2013

Stumbling down the bunny trail

A would-be hip Easter Bunny can't put much spring into 'Hop'

by James Sanford

“Hop” brings together two icons the world never thought of as a couple: the Easter Bunny and Courtney Love. Sadly, Courtney doesn’t turn up in her cheeriest Easter bonnet and a springtime-fresh pastel frock, although her 1998 scorcher “Celebrity Skin” makes a prominent appearance on the soundtrack. That’s only one of the peculiar surprises in this oddball holiday comedy, which combines (literally) sugary fantasy with supposedly hip jokes that are neither as up-to-the-minute or as funny as the filmmakers might have hoped.
Pitched primarily at the very young, “Hop” follows a couple of guys who refuse to do what’s expected of them. E.B. (voice provided by the usually randy Russell Brand, who probably hasn’t gone this long without cursing since his primary school days) has been groomed since birth to follow in the narrow footsteps of his father, the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Laurie), although he’d rather be the drummer in a rock or blues band; at one point in the story, he backs up the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Oh yes, he does.
Meanwhile, in Southern California, perpetually unemployed slacker Fred O’Hare is driving his parents (Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins) nuts with his lack of ambition and his fondness for freeloading.
Fred is played by James Marsden, who, at 37, looks a bit — pardon the pun — long in the tooth to still be in the failure-to-launch stage. He also seems a bit uncertain of exactly what he’s supposed to be doing most of the time; the usually vivacious Marsden (who was extremely funny as the dance show host in “Hairspray” and the puzzled Prince Charming in “Enchanted”) has to play most of his scenes with the digitally created E.B., which means he spent much of his time on the set reacting to a co-star that wasn’t actually there. Marsden doubles up on the mugging and carries on in the manner of an awkward performer in bad children’s theater, overselling the simplest phrases and painting every emotion in broad, bland strokes.
“Hop” is a bit easier to take when it gives us an inside look at the Easter Bunny’s suitably fantastic factory, located, naturally, on Easter Island. With its jellybean fountains, multitudes of marshmallows and a workforce composed primarily of fluffy buttercup-yellow chicks that keep their beaks to the grindstone, even Willy Wonka might feel a tinge of jealousy.
But why did the writers think it was a great idea to have the only chick with a Latino accent (albeit a wildly exaggerated one, courtesy of Hank Azaria) become the movie’s primary villain, a schemer out to steal a job that should be done by a bunny? There’s also a rather mean-spirited jab at adopted Chinese children that doesn’t fit the movie’s generally innocuous spirit.
And is there anything remotely funny anymore about the sight of David Hasselhoff, with skin like day-old oatmeal and eyes that look like raisins, continuing to pretend he’s still a star? His performance here seems to have been inspired by Robert Preston’s turn as the flamboyant nightclub host in “Victor/Victoria,” although Hasselhoff doesn’t have the panache to pull it off.
As is often the case in anything-for-a-laugh family films, “Hop” also throws in a few vintage tunes to pep up the proceedings, including “I Want Candy,” the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” and K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes,” none of which is used imaginatively. While Brand gets in a sweetly saucy line here and there, more often than not “Hop” is like one of those oversize chocolate Easter bunnies that looks wonderful, but turns out to be hollow and not nearly as tasty as you might have hoped.

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