Remember ”Animaniacs”? The mid-’90s TV series that attempted — often successfully — to recapture the subversive self-awareness of classic Warner Bros. cartoons? Well, Looney Tunes: Back in Action is nothing like that. But it tries very hard to be, and its low laugh-to-effort ratio is the upshot.
Blending the real world with animation for no compelling conceptual reason other than the bottom line, ”Looney” teams a Warner Bros. studio veep (Jenna Elfman) and a security guard (Brendan Fraser) with Bugs and Daffy in some standard high jinks: They must recover an ultrapowerful bauble coveted by the evil head of the Acme Corporation (an unrecognizably bewigged Steve Martin) while vainly attempting to maintain convincing eye contact with nonexistent ‘toons. The results are no relation to ”Roger Rabbit,” but rather a second cousin to ”Space Jam” — or, more accurately, those annoying ”Space Jam” MCI commercials. Nobody sings ”I be-wieve I can cawl,” thankfully, but the movie still feels like an infomercial: ”The Wacky Warner Bros. Studio-Tour Ride and Quarterly Report,” if you will. Look, there’s Scooby-Doo! Wow, Duck Dodgers! And hey, they’re shooting a Batman movie directed by B-movie king Roger Corman! (These days, it’s hard to know if that’s a joke or a contingency plan.) Corman, it should be noted, was the mentor of ”Looney” director Joe Dante (”Gremlins”), and boy, must Papa Schlock be proud: The movie makes you feel like you’re there…at the annual stockholders’ meeting.
On the off chance that the kiddies won’t enjoy a cavalcade of trademarks, ”Looney” crams in noisy, noisome action, plus chockablock pop homages for parents. There are flashes of wit — Speedy Gonzales muttering about political correctness and an arty chase through the Louvre. But there is also random flatulence, a.k.a. the stink of desperation. Amid the Sturm und Cynicism, the filmmakers have mistaken Bugs & Co.’s transgressive candor for unabashed crassness. That’s not exactly dethPICable, but it sure is dispiriting.