HOP (2011)

For my inaugural review, I decided to test my resolve. Being a film critic sounds like the perfect life, after all, if you imagine seeing only movies you would want to see anyway. So I asked myself, "If you were contractually obligated to review all the current movies, which one would be most likely to make you want to slit your wrists?" This was the clear choice. (That being said, I was prepared to like it. Honest.)

There are reasons why we don’t have a lot of great—or good—or even mediocre—Easter movies. The relevant Christ story is hardly feel-good family fare, and there is no agreed-upon mythology around His secular stand-in, the Easter Bunny. Not so much a beloved holiday character as a vague and distant holiday figurehead, the Easter Bunny inspires neither childhood affection nor adult nostalgia. I’d call him a marketing icon, but honestly, that would be an insult to such legendary figures as Mr. Clean and the Jolly Green Giant, who at least have definable personalities, understandable motivations, and consistent, iconic designs. What, on the other hand do we know about the Easter Bunny? He's a rabbit…and he brings candy…for some reason. The Easter Bunny has no origin story, no imagery, no entourage: he's a cipher, a blank, a roughly rabbit-shaped void at the center of a confusing, brightly-colored sugar bacchanalia.

Thankfully, now we have Hop, a movie that seizes this blank slate and writes absolutely nothing of value on it.

The creators of Hop no doubt thought it was a good idea to fill the Terrible Easter Bunny Vacuum, and they were right: it is a good idea. Unfortunately, it was obviously the last idea anyone involved in the film ever had. Given the opportunity to define the Easter Bunny for an entire generation of children, Hop instead plays like its script was originally written for Santa Claus, and then clumsily retooled to avoid a lawsuit when the licensing rights for the Jolly Old Elf fell through. In this version, Santa Claus the Easter Bunny works in a magical workshop factory, located at the North Pole Easter Island, staffed by tiny, hard-working elves chicks. One night a year they load up Santa’s Sleigh the Egg Sleigh (I'm not kidding), which flies through the air pulled by magical reindeer chicks (again), to bring toys candy to the good little boys and girls of the world.

Among the movie’s sins—and they are so many, and so egregious, that no amount of seasonally-appropriate flagellation and crucifixion could ever redeem them—the worst must surely be this startling, staggering lack of imagination from everyone concerned.

Of the alleged plot, the less said, the better. The Reigning Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie, who must have lost a bet, his pride, or his mind), is ready to retire and hand the Egg of Destiny (don't ask) over to the Hare Apparent, his son E.B. (a wasted Russell Brand). But there's a problem: E.B. doesn’t like to make toys candy, and dreams instead of being a dentist drummer.

Determined to pursue his dream in spite of his father’s wishes, E.B. runs off to Hollywood, where he meets a human non-entity named Fred O’Hare (get it?), played by James Marsden. (Marsden is probably best known for playing Cyclops in the X-Men franchise, where he succeeded in bringing the most wooden character in comics to amazing new densities of lifelessness on the screen.) In the ensuing hour-that-feels-like-a-year, Fred and E.B. bond over such thrilling set pieces as “Fred Goes on Job Interview,” “Driving Slowly in Car,” and "Room Full of Suds Gag That Was Old When the Brady Bunch Used It." Meanwhile, back at Willy Wonka’s Outlet Mall, Carlos the Head Chick (voiced by Hank Azaria, in a verbal hate-crime) plots to overthrow the Rabbit Royal Family and take over Easter.

All of this nonsense might be forgivable if the characters were remotely interesting or amusing. However, Marsden brings vast quantities of insipid nothingness to a totally underwritten character, and actually makes one long for the not-too-distant days when Brendon Fraser would surely have taken this thankless and feckless role. But Marsden can't be blamed for everything: he is just the straight man, after all, and his only job is to fake convincing reaction shots for his digital counterpart. (Though even at this job—make no mistake—he fails miserably.)

E.B. is the bigger problem. We can perhaps imagine another universe wherein Russell Brand was allowed to ad-lib all his dialogue and make this character even slightly humorous, but here in our reality we are stuck with a version that is neither cute nor funny nor mischievous.  E.B. is simply a fairly genial, mildly annoying talking rabbit, as boringly creepy and unconvincing as a Teddy Ruxpin doll. On meeting E.B., Fred’s first instinct is to smash its head with a large rock, and for me this was Fred’s only sympathetic moment in the entire movie.  I spent the next 90 minutes wishing he had seized the chance when he had it.

Another scene towards the end of the movie evokes similar longing for What Might Have Been, as—to escape a team of dreaded female ninja rabbits (don't ask)—E.B. fakes his own death by putting a Butterball turkey in a pot of boiling water. A better movie might have dared to wink at the audience here, but Hop plays the scene so straight that one wonders if the director actually missed the all-too-obvious reference. Intentional or not, every adult in the audience had to be thinking, Yeah, where is Glenn Close when we need her?

Everyone involved deserves blame here. The script is terrible, the direction is flat, the special effects are unremarkable, and the entire concept is just cynically and unforgivably lazy. There is no joy, no message, no meaning, and no point. ("What's the meaning of Easter? Who gives a damn, we've already got their $12.")  Laurie should be ashamed, Marsden should be unemployed, Brand should get a new agent, and Azaria—not for the first time in his career—should give half his paycheck to some Hispanic anti-defamation league.

Admittedly, I'm not the target audience for this movie. But with a PG rating, repeated out-of-place references to Hugh Hefner and David Hasselhoff, and a script that would bore even the dullest four year-old into catatonia, one is forced to wonder: just who exactly is the target audience for this bilge? The theater where I saw it was encouragingly empty, and I was relieved to see that the few children in attendance didn’t seem to enjoy Hop any more than I did. I heard exactly one laugh, which was for the line—featured in the trailer—where Fred observes to E.B., "You poop candy." This is exactly the same number of laughs you would get saying the word “poop” to any small child, in any context: you don't need to spend $20 million to get it.

Candy-colored crap is a pretty good metaphor for this movie, but even that makes it sound like harmless kiddie fare, when in reality it is so, so much worse than that. Before subjecting your children to Hop, ask yourself: Do you hate them? Do you want them to be stupid? Do you want them to suffer? If the answer to all three questions is No, your children probably deserve better than this sugary turd of a film.


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