By releasing the terrific four-DVD classic-cartoons compilation The Looney Tunes Golden Collection concomitantly with Looney Tunes: Back In Action, Warner Bros. is practically inviting comparisons between the two projects. From a synergistic business standpoint, the move makes sense: The DVDs should ostensibly draw fans to the film, and vice versa. But the tactic could easily backfire, as few animated comedies measure up to Bugs Bunny in his prime. Joe Dante's uneven Back In Action isn't one of them, but it's a tribute to Dante and to screenwriter and Simpsons veteran Larry Doyle that the animated/live-action film even intermittently recaptures the anarchic magic of Warner animation's Golden Age. As the cinematic heir to animator turned live-action auteur Frank Tashlin, Dante is an inspired choice for the job of resurrecting Bugs Bunny and friends. Dante quickly stamps his directorial signature all over the film: His mentor Roger Corman and his cinematic fixture Dick Miller both turn in cameos within the first 10 minutes. Unfortunately, Back In Action's human leads are Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman, who both feel like a casting director's seventh or eighth choice for their roles. Fraser has appeared in enough cartoon-derived films that he's practically an honorary toon, but he gives an unanimated performance as an amiable security guard who becomes involved with a plot involving his captured father (Timothy Dalton) and Acme's sinister plans for a diamond with supernatural powers. Elfman co-stars in the similarly thankless role of an uptight studio executive who, after being fired for canning Daffy, tags along with Bugs Bunny on a series of globe-hopping adventures. With the exception of its bland leads, Back In Action's frenetic plot serves as its biggest weakness, but it at least provides the framework for two Tashlin-worthy setpieces: one at the Louvre, where Bugs and Daffy elude Elmer Fudd by hopping in and out of famous paintings, and the other at "Area 52," where Dante pays loving homage to some of his favorite science-fiction icons. Doyle litters the film with Simpsons-style throwaway gags and clever metatextual flourishes, which makes it unfortunate that he devotes so much time and energy to Action's arbitrary plot and leaden human leads. Neither the crass exercise in brand maximization its advertising promises, nor the triumph of perfectly matched sensibilities Dante's involvement suggests, Back In Action excels at its edges but flounders at its center.
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