REVIEW: Brendan Fraser Survives Goofy, Crass Furry Vengeance

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In Furry Vengeance, a real-estate developer played by Brendan Fraser, faced with the unpleasant prospect of chopping down a protected forest just to keep his boss happy, finds himself attacked by a bevy of angry woodland denizens: A skunk sprays stink-juice directly onto his kisser; a wily nocturnal blackbird tries to gaslight him by beating a nonstop tattoo right outside his bedroom window; a raccoon flies at his crotch and bites him in the nuts. Not since Antichrist has a man suffered so greatly at the tiny, grabby hands of God's creatures. Nature is not our friend, kids, and it's not to be disrespected or underestimated.

It's true that animals don't generally take their inspiration from the Three Stooges, but let's allow director Roger Kumble (as well as his writers, Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert) a bit of poetic license here. Furry Vengeance is manic and broad, and it gives Fraser a number of opportunities -- perhaps too many -- to pop his eyes wide open and stretch his broad, rubbery mouth into a clownish "O." But as family entertainments go, the picture is hardly a grievous offense: It's at times pleasingly goofy, and it's smart enough to cast a skeptical eye on corporations and individuals prone to bragging about how green they are. At one point Fraser's ruthless boss (played by Ken Jeong) barks at him, "What I need from you isn't a commitment to being green, but a grasp of the shades of gray." The subtext is, as long as Fraser gives the appearance of being environmentally conscientious, his actions don't matter a whit.

Of course, Fraser doesn't relish the idea of destroying the forest habitat, and his wife and kid -- played, respectively, by Brooke Shields and Matt Prokop -- really think he's off his rocker to allow himself to be pushed around so easily by his employer. Shields, in particular, is worried about his mental health: She's not particularly happy in the family's new rural-suburban setup. (For the sake of his job, Fraser has uprooted the clan from Chicago, promising they can all return there in a year if their new environs don't measure up.) But her husband's sudden weird behavior is of even greater concern. She can't understand why, for example, he's so obsessed with setting up an elaborate network of electric traps on the family's front lawn, the better to zap the not-so-innocent rodents who have shown up to make his life miserable. Then again, an army of skunks isn't marching into her car to gas it up with noxious clouds of perfume.

The animals in Furry Vengeance are real, though that's not to say they're realistic -- they've been enhanced by computer so their mouths and eyes mimic human expressiveness. But with the exception of a brief dream sequence in which the critters shimmy and sway to Chic's "Le Freak," they don't talk; instead, they chatter and squeak in an animal language only they can understand. (Their animal ideas are interpreted in cartoon thought balloons, each containing a single image: when Mr. Raccoon, the mastermind of the woodland offensive, stands on a stump to rouse his compatriots to battle, the bubble-thought that materializes over his head is Mel Gibson's war-painted mug from Braveheart.)

Furry Vengeance is often just crass and dumb. At one point Fraser romps around in a coral-colored track borrowed from his wife -- his buttocks are eloquently framed by the words "yum yum" emblazoned across the backside. Still, Fraser is a marvelous comic actor: He gave a superb, unhinged performance in Henry Selick's little-seen, and brilliant, 2001 fantasy Monkeybone. (It's also a shame he doesn't get more serious dramatic roles, like the one he had in The Quiet American, but the world of movies, and of actors' careers, is hardly a just one.) Fraser sometimes goes over the top here -- even in a movie aimed primarily at kids, a little mugging goes a long way. But he makes up for it in a tender little scene, late in the picture, in which he confronts the rebel raccoon, now captured and caged. He suddenly realizes that Mr. Raccoon has been raising a ruckus simply to protect his home and his family. In other words, he and the raccoon dad have essentially the same values. Fraser gazes at the furry critter with a deeply poetic look of sympathy mingled with shame at his own greedy, thoughtless behavior. He gives the moment more emotional complexity than it calls for -- which is what a good actor does, even when he's just paying the rent.