"Hey, what do you know? I found Nemo."
Despite being a financial disaster at the box office, this frenzied animated feature is very enjoyable, underrated fare whose failure to attract an audience remains a mystery. "Back in Action" opens by continuing the war-of-words between Daffy Duck and Buggs Bunny. Continuing history, Daffy's the one that gets the boot, shown his way off the lot by security guard DJ (Brendan Fraser). After Daffy gets them both into trouble, they're both shown the door.
DJ's father happens to be Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton), an actor who happens to be famed for his roles in spy pictures, who also happens to be a real spy. Daffy and DJ head off to Las Vegas to try and rescue Damian from the head of the evil Acme corporation (Steve Martin). On their trail is the head of comedy from Warner Brothers (Jena Elfman) and the rest of the Toons, as she realizes that Daffy is a necessary part of the 'toon equation - and that she likes DJ - or will eventually come to realize that.
Plot isn't exactly the film's strong point - the picture is an example of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the audience and hoping it will work. Thankfully, with cartoon fan Joe Dante at the helm, the film is mostly successful and occasionally quite hilarious. There's plenty of sight gags and in-jokes scattered throughout the picture, including one brilliant little moment early on where actor Matthew Lillard is yelled at for his portrayal of Shaggy by the animated Shaggy and Scooby Doo. Frasier pokes fun at his "Mummy" efforts and Jenna Elfman admits that "Dharma and Greg" got really bad after a while (Ok, that last part doesn't really happen, but one can wish.)
Technically, the picture is first-rate, as the animated characters blend in surprisingly seamlessly with the actors and environments. As for the actors, they're mostly quite good: Frasier and Martin seem to be having a lot of fun, while Heather Locklear, Joan Cusack and Dalton provide fine supporting efforts. The only one who doesn't make much of an impression is Elfman. To her credit, she is stuck with a thankless role - she's the only one who's required to play it straight in a film where everything's as over-the-top as possible.
My only considerable issue with "Back in Action" is the length, as the rather thin story and hyperactive presentation do start to wear out their welcome as the 90-minute picture heads towards the wrap-up. Overall, it's not as inspired as some of the other animated fare today, but I thought this was a fun feature that should entertain most older kids and adults.
VIDEO: "Back in Action" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (a very cropped pan & scan version is also available). This was a terrific presentation whose small flaws were balanced out by some superb aspects. Sharpness and detail were certainly stellar, as the picture remained consistently well-defined and crisp.
Colors also looked terrific throughout the show, as the film's er, cartoony color palette remained vibrant throughout, looking well-saturated and bold. Colors displayed no smearing or other issues, while flesh tones looked accurate and black level seemed solid. Aside from some noticable edge enhancement in a few spots, the film looked wonderful here.
SOUND: Although not an all-out assault, "Back In Action" boasts a suitably cartoony 5.1 soundtrack that often gets the speakers going. Surrounds kick in throughout the film to throw some discrete effects into the ring and generally pull the action further out into the listening space. Audio quality seemed perfectly fine, as dialogue remained clean and natural-sounding, with no distortion or other issues. Sound effects and music remained clear, as well. Bass seemed unexpectedly heavy at times, but I never felt it to be overwhelming.
EXTRAS: Not too much: aside from a brief "making of" featurette, there's another short piece on the film's effects, the film's theatrical trailer and a 10-minute set of alternate scenes, including a completely different opening. An animated short - "Whizzard of Ow" - rounds out the supplemental section.
Final Thoughts: While it eventually starts to get a bit much, this lively Looney Tunes adventure provided a lot of fun, some witty in-jokes and solid laughs. The DVD from Warner Brothers provides excellent audio and video, but only a few minor supplements. Hopefully the film will be a bit more successful on DVD than it was theatrically, where it only took in a fraction of its $80m budget.