Zoom (2006) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for crude humor, language and some violence
Running Time: 83 min.

Cast: Tim Allen, Courteney Cox, Chevy Chase, Michael Cassidy, Ryan Newman, Kate Mara, Spencer Breslin, Rip Torn, Kevin Zegers
Director: Peter Hewitt
Screenplay: Adam Rifkin, David Berenbaum (based on the graphic novel, "Zoom's Academy for the Super Gifted", by Jason Lethcoe)
Review published August 13, 2006

Call this X-Men for Toddlers (or Just the Mentally Deficient), Zoom continues the slide into sub-mediocre family films for director Peter Hewitt, who continues to make movies that appeal almost exclusively to 10-year-olds.  The weaknesses of his latest offering shouldn't surprise anyone that knows about his track record; his last two films released this decade were Garfield, the feeble-minded version of the long-running comic strip, and Thunderpants, about a young boy with astounding abilities to produce flatulence.   If there were such a thing as cinematic flatulence, Zoom would be it -- it's quick, it's noisy, and it stinks.

The plot of Zoom concerns a former superhero named Jack Shepard (Allen, The Shaggy Dog), aka "Captain Zoom", who has all but lost his powers of speed over the last three decades.  Despite his lack of current usefulness in superpowers, his experience as a former hero has been deemed necessary enough for the scientists and government officials heading the top secret superhero force known as "Project Zenith" to utilize him as an instructor and mentor for a group of impressionable children with amazing talents.  Jack needs to get the kids up to speed in order to stop his younger brother Connor (Zegers, Dawn of the Dead), aka "Concussion", who has been raising a bit of hell since coming back from an alternate dimension.

Despite being very loosely based on an actual comic (almost unrecognizably so, I might add), Jason Lethcoe's "Zoom's Academy for the Super Gifted", the powers-that-be decided to remove all trace of individuality from the source material and just mold the production to conform to the standard superteam formula embodied by such films as X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Incredibles, and Sky High.  So close did Zoom adhere to formula, the studio (Sony) was the subject of a lawsuit brought about by X-Men's movie studio and comic book house, Fox and Marvel Comics, respectively, for being a total rip-off designed to confuse moviegoers.  At least it does stop one step short of being called "X-oom".

Should anyone really care if it rips off films that are better and more original?  I say, anyone that purchases a ticket to Zoom thinking they are going to see X-Men: The Last Stand are probably the only ones dumb enough to be properly in tune with the kind of witless, vacuous fodder that this film is.  Practically the same thing can be said for audiences that will go see anything with Tim Allen above the title, and even more hopeless, Chevy Chase (Christmas Vacation, Funny Farm).  Everything about the film reeks of inanity, with its only saving grace coming from the quality of the special effects and appealing child actors.  Well, I shouldn't say "child", as two of the kids, Michael Cassidy ("The O.C.") and Kate Mara (The Californians, Brokeback Mountain), are actually approaching their mid-20s. 

As with many kid films these days, the gags aim quite low in order to produce laughs.  There will be fart jokes, snot jokes, and all the rest, which is to be expected.  As crass as these visual gags are, they didn't offend me nearly as much as the apparent need for continuous slapstick in every scene, I suppose just to remind us that this is a comedy.  In fact, Courteney Cox's (3000 Miles to Graceland, Scream 2) character serves very little purpose in the film save to fall on her ass or trip over desks at every opportunity, and compounded with Chevy Chases's bumbling shtick, these jokes wear out their welcome quite early. 

Actually, the most disturbing aspect of Zoom comes through dressing up one of the girls in the group in provocative costumes and make-up.  If you think I'm talking about the eldest female, Kate Mara, you'd be wrong.  Perhaps it just gives me that creepy JonBenet Ramsey feeling, but whoever was involved with choosing wardrobe for Zoom seemed really obsessed with making baby-faced 8-year-old Ryan Newman's appearance as "cover girl" as possible.  After seeing the precious little princess, cute little bunny rabbit, and furry poodle outfits they put on her, my only thought is, "Who let the pervert on the set, and why hasn't he been arrested?"

Zoom has some decent special effects, but most of them are conserved for the final fifteen minutes, which is how long the film takes before these kids are finally thrown into battle.  Before this, we're treated to trite scenes of them training and bonding, but we're offered little in terms of character development to actually care about any of them.  They don't even bother explaining how any of the children get their superpowers, or why only children are called upon to stop Concussion.  The assumption that we'll go with anything they decide to dish up without need for explanation is downright insulting.  There's no background information, no depth, and barely an attempt at basic story cohesion.  As much time is expended in the team trying to order drive-thru fast food (a blatant product placement for Wendy's, who not-so-coincidentally offered Zoom Kids' Meals for the film's release), than in setting up the film's final conflict. 

Zoom wasn't screened to critics upon its initial release, and given the derivative, schlocky nature of it, that isn't too surprising.  I mean, anyone that has ever seen a super-team adventure before has seen everything that Zoom has to offer already, so why waste their time -- they could probably write their reviews just off the trailer.  If you're wise, you won't choose to screen even that much of it. 

Whether you were compiling it alphabetically or just in terms of overall quality, if you were making a list of superhero films, Zoom deserves to be at the bottom of the list,  

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo