“Planes” represents vengeance for any little boy who’s been dragged to a Disney Princess movie and forced to humor his sister. It draws the narrowest bead on a target audience of any film in recent memory: Elementary school-age boys may well be delighted, but it offers not a scintilla of stimulation for anyone else.
A “World of Cars” logo flashes onscreen at the beginning as a promise or fair warning, according to your taste. And the movie delivers: It both rips off and waters down the story of the first “Cars” while making all of its non-airborne characters autos and trucks.
Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook), who spends his days bombarding corn with insecticide, longs to enter the Wings Around the Globe Rally to break out of his rut. He qualifies by a fluke at the local trials, then finds himself challenging the world’s best long-distance fliers.
Writer Jeffrey M. Howard doesn’t even make a stab at originality. As in “Cars,” the hero has a best friend who’s a slightly dim chatterbox of a truck (Brad Garrett), gets sensible advice from a no-nonsense female (Teri Hatcher), trains with a crusty retired veteran who initially turns him down (Stacy Keach) and faces an egomaniacal, sneering champion (Roger Craig Smith).
Planes from other nations are even more stereotypical than the cast of “Cars:” a demure Indian female, a stiff-upper-lip Britisher, a French Canadian who’s initially frosty and then full of ooh-la-la, a Mexican wearing a cape and wrestling mask who talks about his unquenchable passion. The movie, obviously meant to inspire direct-to-video sequels, feels like one itself except for the first-string voices (especially Keach).
Yet director Klay Hall will satisfy 8-year-old boys who would willingly live in a world of characters named Skip and Rip (as these are), giggle at fart and poop jokes, and love to listen to talk of torque and rotors.
The story plays deftly to the essential fantasy of an adolescent boy: “I hit a home run in my Little League game, and then the New York Yankees called me up to play in the World Series!” (This is the equivalent of Dusty’s feat.) That’s not an ignoble vision, just one that’s unusually age- and gender-specific.
“Planes” offers not a single character, not a single situation, not even a single joke meant to engage adults – I can’t remember the last time that happened – and doesn’t care that its “Little Airplane That Could” message will seem overfamiliar to most of us. To paraphrase the famous dictum about rock ‘n’ roll, if “Planes” is too dull, you’re too old.
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