The 1994 movie "The Flintstones" was such a dreary affair that it's hard to get excited about a new film based on that 1960s cartoon classic. The earlier movie re-created signature scenes from the television series while capturing little of the tone. But "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas" is something else altogether. It's livelier, it feels more like a cartoon, and when you're dealing with modern Stone Age families, that can only be a plus.
This is a love story--the tale of how Fred and Barney (Mark Addy and Stephen Baldwin, respectively) meet and fall in love with Wilma and Betty (Kristen Johnston and Jane Krakowski).
With the same studio and director in charge, the new movie technically is a prequel, but it's a brontosaurus of a different color. In addition to its lighter tone, it has all new actors in the lead roles. (John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, Rosie O'Donnell and Elizabeth Taylor starred in the 1994 film.) Addy's bellowing Fred is a credible younger version of Goodman's, and the normally unimpressive Baldwin may finally have found his calling--he should stick to portraying dimwitted cartoon characters.
The female characters, especially, are better developed this time out, but it's hard to imagine some of the personalities here (especially Johnston's exuberant, towering, pratfalling Wilma) maturing into the characters in the other film. This and several inconsistencies between the movies point up how little thought was given to the characters' back stories in the first film.
"Viva Rock Vegas" opens with Fred and Barney, longtime best friends from the trailer park, graduating from the Bronto Crane Academy and starting construction jobs. Wilma Slaghoople, meanwhile, lives in an opulent mansion on the hill overlooking Bedrock.
Rejecting the values of her snobbish mother (Joan Collins), who wants her to marry the dashing Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson), Wilma runs away. She is taken in by Betty, a kindhearted waitress who thinks Wilma is "caveless."
Surveying Betty's modest Melrock Place digs, Wilma enthuses, "I always wondered what it would be like to live in an apartment." Her meaning is totally misunderstood.
The first film showed a dirty, threatening and rather shadowy prehistoric world, and it twisted the cartoon elements to fit into a Capra-esque plot about greed and human dignity, with a "Perils of Pauline" ending tacked on for good measure. The new movie also deals with issues of class and greed, but it doesn't let those issues weigh it down. There's no workers' revolt in the new film, for instance, and it doesn't subject audiences to jarring sights such as the near lynching of Fred and Barney for getting too close to the corporate bosses.
Filmmakers who adapt lowly TV shows or comic books tend to overload the plots, probably to keep hyperactive youngsters in their seats, and the people behind "Viva Rock Vegas" are guilty of this. For no good reason, they include a wispy subplot involving the Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming), a tiny, green-faced alien who appeared in a number of the television episodes. And a large portion of the movie takes place in Vegas, where Rockefeller, a casino owner with money problems, tries to break up Fred and Wilma so he can marry her and get his hands on the Slaghoople fortune.
English rock stars, threatening hoodlums and Harvey Korman as Wilma's daffy dad all get more screen time than they probably need.
Part of the fun of these movies is watching the inventive prehistoric versions of modern conveniences. Early in the movie, Fred drives over a bridge that really is a giant domesticated dinosaur. And picture-taking is possible because little bird-like creatures hide in cameras to peck out people's likenesses.
The movie's high point, though, may be the birth of Dino, the Flintstones' pet. A tiresome presence in the first film, as a pup the frisky beast brings a smile whenever he runs yapping across the screen.
* MPAA rating: PG for innuendo and brief language. Times guidelines: The movie is child-friendly in every way.
'The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas'
Mark Addy: Fred Flintstone
Stephen Baldwin: Barney Rubble
Kristen Johnston: Wilma Slaghoople
Jane Krakowski: Betty O'Shale
Thomas Gibson: Chip Rockefeller
Joan Collins: Pearl Slaghoople
Alan Cumming: Gazoo and Mick Jagged
Harvey Korman: Colonel Slaghoople
Universal Pictures presents a Hanna-Barbera/Amblin production. Director Brian Levant. Screenplay Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont and Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr., based on the animated series by Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc. Producer Bruce Cohen. Executive producers William Hanna, Joseph Barbera and Dennis E. Jones. Cinematographer Jamie Anderson. Production designer Christopher Burian-Mohr. Editor Kent Beyda. Costume Designer Robert Turturice. Composer David Newman. Running Time: 1 hours, 31 minutes.
In general release.