If nothing else, Gnomeo & Juliet proves that a predominantly British production can produce an animated film just as devoid of anything memorable as one from any other country. What makes it special is that, in addition to serving up random and pointless pop-culture references, Kelly Asbury’s movie also makes irrelevant shout-outs to Shakespeare -- arguably Britain’s greatest cultural export.
The plot knowingly follows the quintessential star-crossed lovers tragedy Romeo and Juliet, with the obvious change of giving it a happy ending. Though Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) belong to feuding garden-gnome families, they meet and fall in love. But the clans’ shared animosity is exacerbated when Tybalt (a hilariously gruff Jason Statham) dies in part because of actions taken by Gnomeo to defend a friend that Tybalt was attacking. After getting some sage advice from a statue of William Shakespeare (Patrick Stewart), Gnomeo attempts to set things right, and win the heart of the lawn ornament he loves.
Undoubtedly, Gnomeo & Juliet is state-of-the-art animation, but in service of a style that doesn’t compel us to keep watching -- the gnomes all have a similar look that quickly grows tiresome. The hacky script is credited to over a half-dozen different writers, who were apparently paid to make sure anything interesting or funny was surgically removed.
It’s an indication of how insipid the movie is that, with a cast of such great British performers as Julie Walters, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, and Stephen Merchant, the best lines go to wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan as a super-powered lawn mower that goes by the name Terrafirmenator -- a device so powerful “your lawn will be afraid to grow.”
The real shame is that, for one brief scene, the movie offers a glimpse of what could have been. At one point, Juliet delivers a wittily rewritten version of the famous “What’s in a name” speech that recasts it in terms kids will understand and contains some very funny wordplay. In that brief moment, you understand that the filmmakers aren’t without talent, they’re just too lazy to do justice to both their source material and their audience for an entire movie. leave a comment --Perry Seibert