Chairman: This is unacceptable! We cannot have nine-year-olds working in sweatshops making ACME sneakers – not when three-year-olds work for so much less!
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
The Looney Tunes had two major motion pictures: The first one was Space Jam, which was an attempt to capitalize on the 90s Air Jordan commercials. The second one was Back in Action, which was an attempt to pay homage to the classics. For a classic Looney Tunes fan like myself, this is the better movie. But putting aside childhood nostalgia, there are some glaring flaws to it.
The story involves Daffy Duck enraged at playing second to Bugs Bunny and getting fired from Warner Bros. Studios. He meets up with stuntman and security guard DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser) and find out that Drake’s father Damian (Timothy Dalton) is a secret agent who has been kidnapped by the chairman of ACME Corporation simply known as Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) who is in search of a diamond known as the Blue Monkey. Thus the two set out to save him. Meanwhile Bugs’ routines fall apart without Daffy and thus he along with the Vice President of Comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman) set out to bring back Daffy and all of them get roped into a mission in the process.
The writing for this movie is somewhat of a mixed bag. The villain’s plan to turn every human but him into monkeys so that they can manufacture ACME products and turn them back into humans so that the world will buy them is just so absurd and yet self-aware in it. The way it’s portrayed has a wacky vibe that would belong in something cartoony like Looney Tunes.
There’s a scene at a restaurant where we see several classic Warner Bros. characters lamenting their problems. For instance, Porky Pig complains about the fact that he was forced to lose his stutter due to political correctness and Speedy Gonzales being believed racially offensive to Hispanics.
The scene also contains a cartoon Shaggy (voiced by Casey Kasem the original voice actor for Shaggy) and Scooby chewing out Matthew Lillard for his work as Shaggy on the first live-action movie. The latter in particular is a hilarious passing of the torch moment looking back now considering that Lillard went on to play Shaggy in the cartoon as well.
There’s a chase scene towards the climax in outer space against Marvin the Martian that utlilizes and parodies classic space adventure tropes. There’s a also a scene where Elmer chases Bugs and Daffy through a series of classic art paintings. It takes on so many different styles and the whole chase feels in vein of the classics with the various cartoon physics in play. Jokes like these are rather timeless and showcase the fun the movie can have in trying to go back to classics.
But then you have some other fourth wall jokes in which the characters repeatedly acknowledge that this whole thing is a movie. It comes back to that same joke every time and it gets way too heavy handed and the joke to lose its shine.
In regards to the performances, the voice actors for the Looney Tunes get their basic likeness and personalities down. The movie did a good job of featuring each one and put them into some good roles in the movie no matter how big or small. In addition to playing DJ Drake, Fraser also voiced the Tasmanian Devil and he does so surprisingly well. But of course the human characters are once again a mixed bag. Fraser and Elfman gave rather indifferent performances in a huge wacky world. And we follow them for most of the movie so it gets rather distracting and makes the humor rather slow. Others like Dalton as Damian Drake and Joan Cusack as Mother on the other hand make the most of their brief time on screen as they give far more energy and their performances feel far more synergized with the rest of the wackiness. But by far the best in this movie is Steve Martin as Mr. Chairman. He is just so over-the-top in the way he speaks while formulating his plans that even when it is awkward it’s hard not to laugh at how silly he is. He legitimately feels like a cartoon himself. I half expected them to pull a Judge Doom by having him be cartoon character in disguise.
Looney Tunes Back in Action was the last Looney Tunes movie. It has some tough spots through some of the human actors and some of the jokes can get rather grating but the aspects that work really work. If you’re a classic Looney Tunes fan, this is worth at least one watch.