REVIEW: Hop Is as Fresh as a Stale Peep

Movieline Score: 3

The ads for Hop tout it as the new picture from the creators of Despicable Me; what they really mean is that it's from the director of Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties. That would be Tim Hill, and his work in has none of the special charms of Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's cheerfully disreputable concoction. Hop features no misanthropic baldies, no dead-guy pancakes, no cradles made of discarded missiles. All we get is a runaway rabbit and a grown-up who's too lazy to get a real job. Talk about bait-and-switch.

Two of the producers of Despicable Me did help shepherd Hop into being. But none of the previous movie's magic radioactive dust has rubbed off. Hop, which blends live action with animation, is both technically impressive and as emotionally hollow as an empty plastic egg. There's nothing in it to inspire excitement or even a mild glimmer of delight; it's almost offensive in its dullness.

Russell Brand provides the voice of E.B., the teenage son of the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie). Pops is getting relatively long in the tooth and hopes to retire soon; he's been trying to groom his son to enter the family business of worldwide basket-delivery. But E.B. has other ideas: He dreams of being a rock'n'roll drummer. So he escapes Easter-central headquarters -- located on Easter Island, of course -- and ends up in Southern California where, after being ejected from the grounds of the Playboy Mansion (he'd believed, sexy bunny that he is, getting in would be a no-brainer), he latches onto the rumpled flannel coattails of aging ne'er-do-well Fred O'Hare (a far-too-eager-to-please James Marsden).

Like E.B., Fred has no interest in getting a real job, no matter how much his straitlaced father (Gary Cole) nags him. Even so, live-action Fred at first wants nothing to do with animated E.B.; he suspects this brazen talking rabbit will bring him nothing but trouble, and he's right. E.B. starts by messing up a job interview that's crucial for Fred. Then he asks Fred to drive him to an audition for "Hoff Knows Talent," hosted by the ever-charismatic David Hasselhoff. Meanwhile, back on Easter Island, the Easter Bunny's second-in-command, a scheming chick named Carlos (Hank Azaria), hatches a plan to become the CEO of Easter, or something like that. At the same time, Easter Bunny Senior struggles with grief, not knowing where his son has gone and fearing that he's lost forever.

There are one or two moments when E.B.'s antics might rouse a mild giggle out of you, and Brand tosses off one great line: Fred meets E.B. when he hits the runaway bunny with his car and, hoping to get rid of the uninjured critter fast and with minimal fuss, offers him some baby aspirin. "You save that," E.B. shoots back indignantly. "You might run over a baby."

But that's about as funny as Hop gets. The gags here are mostly knowingly adult without being particularly smart or amusing. In technical terms, Hop is reasonably proficient. The animation is colorful all right, particularly in the Easter Island sequences: We're treated to a brief guided tour of the candy-making facilities, in which Rube Goldberg contraptions squirt cream into chocolate eggshells and spritz marshmallow into little chick shapes. (Jellybeans are squeezed out via more organic means -- I'll leave that detail to your imagination.)

Still, all that candymaking isn't as dazzling as it should be. And even though the animated characters are integrated smoothly into the live action, there's no real reason for them to be there. Hop is spectacularly charmless -- there's no spring in its step. The last thing we need is an Easter movie that comes limping down the bunny trail.