Hollywood is so hungry for movie franchises that it will seek inspiration from almost any source. That’s the only conceivable explanation for “The Angry Birds Movie,” which is best described as a mobile-gaming app’s origin story.
An animated adventure based on Angry Birds — the app that has spawned enough branded merchandise to fill every Rubbermaid storage bin in the country — isn’t the worst idea ever. Conceptually, it’s no more ridiculous than movies inspired by plastic construction bricks or pirate-themed amusement-park rides. The problem with “The Angry Birds Movie” is that, unlike “The Lego Movie” or the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, it doesn’t take an existing product as a jumping-off point to spin a more imaginative yarn. Instead, it assumes that its audience has been just dying to find out how and why all those birds that live in our phones started slingshotting themselves into evil pigs and crates of TNT in the first place.
But does anyone really care? It’s doubtful that even the most addicted Angry Birds fan ever paused the game to wonder, “But why are they so . . . so angry?”
Initially, the movie takes a more personal route toward answering that question by focusing on Red (voice of Jason Sudeikis), a beetle-browed avian who has a hard time keeping his cool. Red works as a clown at birthday parties (an odd career choice for someone with a temper). After a heated argument with a dissatisfied customer, he winds up in court, where he’s sentenced to attend anger-management classes alongside other feathered hotheads who can’t keep their beaks shut.
Before Red makes too much progress, a bunch of pigs on a ship sail smack into the birds’ home island, insisting that they just want to hang out and become friends. Red warns the community that the pigs might try to take control of their home, but, given his tendency to burst into irrational rages, no one listens.
That’s right. “The Angry Birds Movie” is an exploration of the effects of colonialism. Your kids will probably learn a lot about that subject, once they stop laughing at the part where the character of Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) — an in-app purchase who’s been turned into a revered hero in the movie — urinates into a mountain stream for a full minute.
The movie’s humor consistently aims low, despite the fact that Jon Vitti, the veteran television writer who worked on both “The Simpsons” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” wrote the script. Occasionally, there are some clever touches. Matilda (Maya Rudolph), the ultra-Zenlike anger-management instructor, describes herself as a “free-rage chicken,” while a courtroom sketch artist taps out portraits using her beak. Overall, however, the laughs are scant. This is especially disappointing considering the voice cast, which is studded with such comic greats as Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Keegan-Michael Key and, er, Sean Penn. In his role as a gargantuan bird named Terence, the actor literally does nothing but grunt — albeit with the kind of world-class nuance that won him an Academy Award for “Mystic River.”
Ultimately, “The Angry Birds Movie” exists so that the audience can experience, in widescreen, what it feels like to play the game. In scenes in which Hal (the boomerang bird) or Bubbles (the orange bird who expands once dropped on a target) zoom through the CGI air, the film is actually kind of fun. But those few moments still can’t justify a theatrical feature. After paying good money to take your family to see this film, you may be dealing with some anger-management issues of your own.
PG. At area theaters. Contains rude humor and action. 90 minutes.