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Subversive. Incomprehensible. With fries.

'Aqua Teen' goes big-screen. No terrorist plot. No plot at all.

April 08, 2007|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

IT takes a certain sensibility to enjoy a show about a floating box of French fries; a giant, self-important milkshake; and a talking wad of meat who share a beat-up house in New Jersey and routinely suffer deaths of fantastic gore. And, naturally, that's exactly what has made "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" a cult hit.

The TV cartoon is a bizarre, even subversive series that draws a geek-squad fan base, inspired a theme song by vintage rapper Schoolly D and voice cameos by Sarah Silverman, Todd Field and Ozzy Osbourne's lead guitarist Zakk Wylde, among others. And, until recently, it was virtually unknown by the general public.

In January, "Aqua Teen" officially entered the cultural lexicon after Boston authorities mistook the show's marketing campaign for a terrorist bomb plot. Police shut down the city for what turned out to be lighted silhouettes of a show character holding up his middle finger. Soon, even buttoned-down congressmen were cracking "Aqua Teen" jokes.

On Friday, the TV series makes the leap to full-length feature film with "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters," a virtually plotless, often gory and hallucinatory experience that pokes as much fun at the overwrought Hollywood blockbuster as it does at the "Aqua Teen" fans themselves. Those would be the more than 1 million viewers, most of them 18-to-34-year-old men, who take this absurdist show far more seriously than the creators intended.

The movie is strictly low-fi, two-dimensional animation, but took more than two years to complete, inspiring endless speculation among fans. At one point, clips were released online, feeding hopes that the movie would give meaning to "Aqua Teen's" otherwise meaningless premise, a nonlinear collection of random acts of mayhem. Instead, fans will get 75 minutes of material so unhinged it makes the TV show look like the "MacNeil-Lehrer Report."

"Aqua Teen" creators Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis started writing it in their spare time and then asked Adult Swim, a Turner Broadcasting System network that shares nighttime channel space with the Cartoon Network, to help fund its completion. Ultimately, it cost $1 million. First Look Pictures was interested even before its executives saw the finished film. Studio staffers polled their teenage children, realized they had a potential hit and took a gamble on the TV show's moviegoing demo and will open the movie in about 800 theaters nationwide.

Though it might sound like a risky venture, skeptics should note that the audience most likely to see this movie is much the same crowd that made the Spartan war story "300" a surprise box-office phenomenon.


Wee-hours weirdness

MAIELLARO and Willis use their movie, which they wrote, directed and co-produced with Jay Wade Edwards, to offer a tiny shred of reason behind the comic horror fantasy they launched in the wee hours of Sept. 2, 2001. Back then, the show, which unfolds in 11-minute episodes, six days a week, launched with no back story. There were simply three roommates in New Jersey -- Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad -- and their neighbor Carl, a regular guy and classic-rock-loving Jersey stereotype. There was also a psychopathic scientist named Dr. Weird who seemed to have no connection to the others.

Absent any context, fans of the show conjure their own meaning in chat rooms and on fan sites. And that's just fine with Maiellaro and Willis. They aim for the greatest degree of nonsense, writing out plots, then skipping key points entirely just to confuse the audience. "It's absurd, like anti-writing," said Willis. "It's almost like anti-television....There isn't a subplot."

The movie ultimately reveals the origin of the characters, a tangled story of shared brain matter, a talking watermelon slice, Rush drummer Neil Peart's "drum solo of life" and a buxom nine-layer burrito voiced by Tina Fey. But it's virtually incomprehensible. Long before any revelation, kittens are exploded, a giant killer exercise machine wreaks havoc, the main characters are eviscerated in different ways and one admits that he is a woman trapped in a man's body. Oh, and Phil Collins' 1981 hit "In the Air Tonight" also plays a role.

To an outsider, this is either self-indulgent bad writing or fodder for bong hits and acid trips.

Early reviews of the movie -- shown in its entirety on Adult Swim on April Fool's Day, though mostly in thumbnail size -- posted online by amateur film critics have been pretty brutal. On, one reviewer proposed the filmmakers "scrap the film and start over." called it the "worst animated film of the year."

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