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‘The Flintstones’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 27, 1994

"The Flintstones," a $45 million dinosaur that hired no fewer than 36 screenwriters and stars John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O'Donnell, isn't just awful. It bombs itself into the Stone Age. As Fred Flintstone might have put it: yabba-dabba-boo.

After faithfully duplicating the TV show's familiar opening sequence -- in which Fred Flintstone (Goodman) knocks off work, howls for joy, slides down his Bronto-crane tail and foot-shuffles away in his prehistoric car -- the movie suffers immediate comic extinction. Leadenly directed and almost soberly scripted, it never captures the campy brightness of the original series -- the herky-jerky animation, the wacky sound effects, the distinctive character voices and that cheesy laugh track.

In the third-rate plot (and there's no telling who among the Flintstone 36 came up with this gem), scheming boss Cliff Vandercave (Kyle MacLachlan) and his comely secretary (Halle Berry) promote unsuspecting Fred as a vice president, then frame him for embezzlement, intending to abscond with the ill-gotten profit. Fred, enjoying a life of unprecedented luxury, is obliged to fire Barney (Moranis) and watch his friend sink into poverty before realizing his mistakes.

If the performers are imitating their cartoon forebears, it is barely apparent. Goodman's sweat-induced, growly offerings completely bypass Fred's lovable, pigheaded innocence. The actor never attains Fred's gravelly timbre. And with his blond-dyed hair and zombielike demeanor, Moranis seems more like a zoned-out Warhol groupie than Fred's perky buddy.

The greatest asset of Perkins's Wilma is that Perkins looks the part. O'Donnell's dead-on Betty Rubble giggle is the funniest thing in the movie, but it merely underlines how bad everyone -- and everything -- else is around her: The child actors who play Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles are completely forgettable. Fred's pet dinosaur Dino, with its chintzy eyes and unconvincing animatronic gyrations, looks like a low-budget Muppet. And even Elizabeth Taylor, trundled out to play Fred's insulting mother-in-law, falls disappointingly short of imperious. She isn't exactly helped by the mediocre bones the screenplay tosses her way.

While the movie -- officially scripted by Steven E. de Souza, Tom Parker and Jim Jennewein -- labors through its primeval ooze, it churns out incessant, dull visual gags, including a Stonehenge-meets-'50s-America and the "pigasaurus" creature under the sink that serves as a garbage disposal. It also heaves out unfunny Hollywood "inside" jokes: The movie opens with a "Steven Spielrock Presents" credit; Halle Berry's character is named Rosetta Stone; George Lucas's "Tar Wars" is playing at the local theater. When, inevitably, Fred -- locked out of the house by his pet saber-toothed tiger -- thumps the door and yells "Wilma!", it doesn't bring "The Flintstones" to a triumphant close. It just sets the audience free.

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