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Thursday, July 26, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"The Simpsons Movie" isn't brilliant, but then, it's Homer

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movie review 2.5 stars

"The Simpsons Movie," with the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria. Directed by David Silverman.

87 minutes. Rated PG for irreverent humor.

The long-awaited "Simpsons" feature film does not eat my shorts. Doesn't set 'em on fire, either.

Early in the film, Homer (Dan Castellaneta) shouts about something he's watching in a theater: "I can't believe we're paying for something we get on TV for free!"

Addressing, and attempting to pre-empt the big, nagging question, shows character. But it doesn't dissipate it: Should you drive, pay to park, shell out dough (D'oh!) for a ticket and buy the overpriced food (even if you don't eat like Homer) for an 87-minute big-screen version of a show that's been running approximately 47 years on Fox?

At the risk of sounding like Principal Skinner: When they make movies from TV shows — and not the generally evil big-screen remakes of old ones like "I Spy" — it's for greed. But also to work with a budget and scope bigger and more satisfying than weekly TV allows (see the "X-Files" movie), and to cut loose with material they'd never get away with on the small screen (see the "South Park" movie and its Uncle song). Or in the case of the upcoming "Sex and the City" film ... ah ... to see the middle-age stars getting hot flashes? That's a tougher one.

If you pay to see the "Simpsons" flick — and don't illegally download it, the fleeting subject of Bart's chalkboard punishment — you'll get plenty of laughs whether or not you're already a fan, and plenty of in-jokes if you are. But it's not a cathartic, grandiose experience, with no hot flashes. People don't want to see those characters have dirty sex or swear like they're on "Deadwood," anyway. Creator Matt Groening and his 11 listed screenwriters push the irreverence slightly further than on the tube, with Bart's riotous naked skateboarding scene and getting the boy drunk. Marge says one borderline off-color word. All too mild to cause a cow-birth.

It begins with the familiar: Homer as human Id, losing his temper and choking Bart, getting into a dare contest that culminates in the skateboarding, and assorted other things Ward Cleaver never would have done to The Beav. Bart feels like a whipped dog, then just neglected as his dad makes a pig best friend — singing "Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig" to it as he walks it along the living-room ceiling.

Lisa's growing environmental activism — bolstered by meeting a dreamy boy into same — dovetails with Homer's swine-crush, resulting in a disaster that prompts an illiterate president and his ruthless government official to drastic measures that threaten to destroy Springfield. And it all threatens to tear the Simpson family apart.

The movie's short and focused, so the myriad other Springfield characters get shortchanged. Everyone has favorites. Given the show's adroitness with social satire, and the rise of corporatism, I would have enjoyed more with the diabolical Mr. Burns; and I just think Barney the drunk and Moe the bartender are funny.

Suited to the larger venue, there's a larger, perfunctory point about Homer learning some lesson about the importance of family. But it can't trump a moment with young thug Nelson, whose trademark "Ha-haaa" mockery provides one of the few cathartic moments in the funniest possible spot.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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