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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Freddie': Reptilian 007

September 01, 1992|CHARLES SOLOMON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After "Rock-a-Doodle," "Cool World" and "Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland," it's clear that 1992 is not a vintage year for animation, but it's been a long time since a cartoon feature as thoroughly terrible as "Freddie as F.R.O.7." (citywide) has appeared. This 21-gun stinker makes Saturday-morning television look good.

The improbable story is so full of gaps, it's difficult to believe writer-producer-director Jon Acevski ever read his own screenplay. After the murder of his Magician-King father, Prince Frederic is turned into a frog by his evil aunt, Messina, who turns herself into a cobra and vows to rule the world someday. During the next few decades, Freddie grows to full froghood; although employment opportunities for 6-foot amphibians are usually limited, he becomes "agent F.R.O.7., the toast of the French secret service."

Unaware that it's 25 years too late to make 007 jokes, Freddie heads for England to try to stop the mysterious force that's stolen Nelson's Column, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. Messina and one El Supremo are taking the buildings and shrinking them, so they can extract the psychic energy they contain. That energy can be reversed to create a sleep-ray that will enable them to invade Britain unopposed. Naturally Freddie thwarts their evil scheme, with a little help from two British agents, "voluptuous Daffers, brainy Scotty" and a simpering version of the Loch Ness monster.

Who El Supremo is, where he got the high-tech weaponry, why Freddie doesn't use his magical powers to turn himself back into a human and why the Loch Ness monster has left Loch Ness for the North Channel are some of the many unanswered plot points hapless adults who attend the film with their children will find themselves trying to explain.

The heavy-handed preaching against violence seems out of place in a cartoon action film: Freddie declares "thoughts will always overcome violence," then kicks and punches his way out of every jam. Messina's big production number, "Evilmainya" (sung by Grace Jones), which includes a dancing chorus of jackbooted neo-Nazis and robed Ku Klux Klansmen, ranks among the low points in children's entertainment in recent decades.

The animation is even less impressive than the storytelling: The characters jerk, ooze and bounce like wads of gum in a popcorn popper. As the voice of Freddie, Ben Kingsley sounds like he's doing a bad impression of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau; Brian Blessed repeatedly screams "Then I'll rule the world! Ahahaha!" as El Supremo, while Billie Whitelaw screeches and hisses as Messina.

'Freddie as F.R.O.7'

Ben Kingsley: Freddie

Jenny Agutter: Daffers

A J & M Entertainment production, released by Miramax Films. Director Jon Acevski. Producers Jon Acevski, Norman Priggen. Screenplay by Jon Acevski. Art director Paul Shardlow. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG (for menacing moments).

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