Neil Patirck Harris, The Smurfs

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

Review in a Hurry: It's a Smurfs movie. What did you expect? If your answer is "a kid-friendly adaptation of the Peyo comics," you're not thinking enough like a Hollywood executive. There's more character and expressiveness in the cartoon drawings over the film's end credits than is shown at any other point. But on the bright side, at least some of the actors actually try to make it all work.

The Bigger Picture: Yes, this really is the epitome of cynical studio cash grabs that it appears to be. Take a property with brand-name identification, throw a ton of money and a couple of name actors at it, add in some inappropriately adult-themed stuff for parents and a shoehorned-in moral for kids. Then make sure there's product placement galore, as well as prominent usage of some of the same classic-rock songs that are in everything.

Voila: The Smurfs.

The Hanna-Barbera cartoon that this is most based upon was never really that good to begin with; it was a preposterous fantasy tale for kids, offering little to remember beyond the infernally catchy "La, la, la-la-la la" theme song. It'd be easier to forgive this live-action/animated adaptation, however, if it kept the kids in mind, perhaps by telling a tale set in that realm of wizards and monsters, featuring the Smurfs' traditional (and young) human pals Johan and Peewit/Peewee.

Instead, because of the idea that parents should be marketed to as well, the Smurfs have to leave medieval Europe via an accidentally generated magic portal and come to modern-day New York City, where they can involve themselves in the life of a put-upon marketing strategist (Neil Patrick Harris) and his pregnant wife (Jayma Mays). Along the way, of course we have to put up with gratuitous references to other films, including some mature titles that are really jarring in this context (Midnight Cowboy, Brokeback Mountain, Braveheart).

Harris works hard to make the movie work, at one point literally pointing out every single absurdity of the Surfs' entire existence, which makes for a funny moment despite undermining the whole premise.

Hank Azaria's hammy, evil wizard Gargamel, here augmented with an odd foreign accent, is a hoot, particularly when interacting with his occasionally digital feline sidekick Azrael. And among the Smurfs, special props to Fred Armisen, whose impersonation of the original Brainy Smurf's voice is far better than any mimicry the SNL star has ever done before.

All else feels forced, from the plot points to the unrealistic behavior of every major human character to the stagey nature of the pratfalls. It isn't desperately painful to sit through, but you're likely to hate yourself if you pay for it.

The 180—a Second Opinion: An early moment with the Smurfs flying on storks is both faithful to the source and thrilling in 3-D. Everything most of the movie isn't.

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