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Where No Pun Is Left Unstoned : Movie review: 'The Flintstones' succeeds at being cartoonish. But do three dozen writers make for a good script? Don't take it for granite.

May 27, 1994|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

Welcome to Bedrock, a town proud of being "First With Fire." The locals eat at Roc Donald's ("Over 18 Dozen Sold"), watch George Lucas' "Tar Wars" at the drive-in, get their gas at the Chevrock station and their information via the Cave News Network.

You were expecting maybe "Middlemarch"?

Whatever else people say about "The Flintstones," no one will claim that a chance to make a truly great motion picture was frittered away here. A live-action cartoon in every sense of the word, this re-creation of the long-running television series about suburban life in 2,000,000 B.C. has been carefully designed to be as bright and insubstantial as a child's toy balloon.

Like "The Addams Family" before it, this is one of those clever, lively and ultimately wearying pieces of showy Hollywood machinery where a glut of creativity has gone into the visuals with only scraps left over for the plot and the dialogue. But then, given its source material, what more could anyone have expected?

Actually, someone must have at least hoped for more, because press reports indicate that somewhere between 32 and 35 writers ("almost as many people as signed the Declaration of Independence," mocked Daily Variety) had a hand in the script. It was finally credited to Tom S. Parker & Jim Jennewein and Steven E. de Souza, but any piece of writing where the most notable words are "Yabba-Dabba-Doo!" is not going to be up for any Writers Guild awards any time soon.

That, as anyone who watched the 1960s TV series remembers, is the war cry of Fred Flintstone (John Goodman), devoted family man, operator of a Bronto-crane at the Slate & Company quarry and mainstay of the Water Buffalos bowling team.

Though Fred (who both here and in the cartoon strongly resembles Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners") likes to say, "In my cave, I reign supreme," really his wife, Wilma (Elizabeth Perkins), calls the shots. And best friends and neighbors Betty (Rosie O'Donnell) and Barney Rubble (Rick Moranis) also have sizable places in his heart.

The best thing the film that bears his family name has done is to whimsically imagine and create a world where everything, up to and apparently including Fred's head, is made from stone. Production designer William Sandell, "Jurassic Park" special-effects supervisor Michael Lantieri and the entire production team have done splendid work in this area, turning Bedrock into a shiny place that always diverts the eye.

Most fun are a host of animatronic beasties designed by Jim Henson's Creature Shop to do everyday tasks, like a lobster lawn mower, a woolly mammoth shower and something called a pigasaurus that replaces the TV series' vulture as a heavy-breathing garbage disposal unit.

If these devices are unexpected, "The Flintstones" plot devices are less so. The main idea, identical to the one that powers "The Hudsucker Proxy," has Slate & Co. evil-doers Cliff Vandercave and Sharon Stone (Kyle MacLachlan and Halle Berry) searching for "an ignorant stooge" to help them fleece the firm. Fred is obviously their man. But his bogus elevation to vice president turns him into a dreadful snob and causes a rift between the Flintstones and the Rubbles. From such acorns do $45-million films grow.

Though "The Flintstones" won't disappoint those who've been looking forward to seeing the venerable cartoon made human, its pleasures are not substantial or lasting enough to convince those who lean toward thinking it all sounds rather feeble.

Under the direction of Brian Levant, whose most notable previous credit was "Beethoven," the acting in the movie, from star Goodman to Elizabeth Taylor's well-publicized cameo, is, not surprisingly, cartoonish, with svelte and sexy villains Berry and MacLachlan registering best, as villains often do in animation.

And even the gaudy and amusing production design, winning though it is, can hold one fascinated for only so long. Even at a lean 92 minutes, "The Flintstones" eventually makes you want to change the channel and see what else is on.

* MPAA rating: PG for "mild innuendoes." Times guidelines: Its innuendoes are of a sexual nature. 'The Flintstones'

John Goodman: Fred Flintstone

Rick Moranis: Barney Rubble

Elizabeth Perkins: Wilma Flintstone

Rosie O'Donnell: Betty Rubble

Kyle MacLachlan: Cliff Vandercave

Halle Berry: Sharon Stone

Elizabeth Taylor: Pearl Slaghoople

Steven Spielrock presents a Hanna-Barbera/Amblin Entertainment production, released by Universal. Director Brian Levant. Producer Bruce Cohen. Executive producers William Hanna, Joseph Barbera, Kathleen Kennedy, David Kirschner, Gerald R. Molen. Written by Tom S. Parker & Jim Jennewein and Steven E. de Souza, based on the animated series by Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc. Cinematographer Dean Cundey. Editor Kent Beyda. Costumes Rosanna Norton. Music David Newman. Production design William Sandell. Art directors Jim Teegarden, Nancy Patton, Christopher Burian-Mohr. Set decorator Rosemary Brandenberg. Set designers Paul Sonski, Elizabeth Lapp, Erin Kemp. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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