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Movie Tuesday: Igor (PG)

Hunch Break
Frankenstein’s little man gets his big chance
By Jared Peterson

In the tradition of Shrek and Wicked, the animated tale Igor offers a sarcastic twist on a classic monster tale.

The story takes place in a land called Malaria, where it’s always a dark and stormy night and where the chief export is doomsday devices. Two distinct classes comprise the workforce. At the top are the Evil Scientists, who dream up horrible weapons with which to blackmail and terrorize the world. Far below are the meek, hunchbacked servants known as Igors, who are made to affect clichéd limps and lisps, absorb abuse from their masters and, occasionally, make a big show of throwing a switch.

Of all the Igors, one Igor (our hero Igor, voiced by John Cusack) dreams impossible dreams of improving his lot and entering his own project in Malaria’s annual Evil Science Fair. When his imperious master Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese) accidentally dooms his own day, the lab is free and Igor sees his chance. In secret, he puts together his monster—a monsterette, actually—your standard Frankenstein number, cobbled together from mismatched body parts. The switch is flipped. An enormous, lopsided creature rages, escapes and heads straight for a school for blind orphans. Ehhhh-xcellent.

But turns out the creature is a big ol’ softie. She’s great with kids. She won’t harm a soul or hurt a fly. And her roar mellows into a sweet, tentative lilt (provided by Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon). Now, in this world evil is a career move, not a moral choice. Igor isn’t vengeful or cruel—at worst, he’s a little snippy—but he needs a mean machine to win the Science Fair, so he tries to coax some bad behavior out her. But as he tries to cajole, brainwash, and eventually trick the monster—who calls herself Eva—into performing her duties, her sweetness and naïveté begin to soften his hunch.

Igor is a bit like the guy at the party with the lampshade on his head. At various times the filmmakers seem to coax, beg or even dare you to laugh. Quips, asides and witty retorts come fast and furious and from all sides. But the result, if somewhat scattered, is a family film with something for absolutely everybody. Besides the standard cartoon chases and pratfalls, there are familiar exchanges of sitcom-style barbs and insults. Two sidekicks (Steve Buscemi, dour and exasperated; and Sean Hayes, frenetic and dense) pile comic relief on top of comic relief. And the villain (voiced by the droll comedian Eddie Izzard), is a smart-alecky and casually cruel evil genius called Dr. Schadenfreude (a name sure to amuse ten year-olds who have recently completed Intro to Psych.)

There are a couple of mild swear words and a smattering of bathroom jokes. The movie earns its PG rating, however, with an unwavering devotion to the macabre. In an evil industry town, shoptalk includes casual mention of axe murderers, severed limbs and torture. (I guess you were going to have to explain ‘aggressive interrogation’ to your kids eventually.) Igors are sometimes slapped around. Spare body parts are treated as, well, spare parts. And there’s one rather jarring violent moment, in which Buscemi’s sidekick character—a former science project who is incapable of dying—is accidentally shot through the head; we’re treated to a brief view through the hole (why I can not say). As if part of a perpetual Halloween, these morbid moments are mainly atmospheric—but you’d hate for them to make their way onto the playground.

At a September 20th screening, the only previews were for Delgo, a computer-animated sci-fi adventure; and Inkheart, a literary fantasy based on a popular young fiction novel.

Jared Peterson writes movie reviews and articles on popular culture for the magazine. He thinks he could save Hollywood a lot of trouble if they’d only ask his opinion before green-lighting a film. He channels his resentment into a blog, http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.

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