[Screen It]

(2010) (voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz) (PG)

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Computer Animated Comedy: After signing a contract to get his old, carefree life back, a swamp ogre finds himself in an alternate reality where his wife and friends no longer know him.
Once upon a time, Shrek (voice of MIKE MYERS) was a loner ogre who lived in a swamp and was feared by all. But then he went and saved Princess Fiona (voice of CAMERON DIAZ), befriended Donkey (voice of EDDIE MURPHY) as well as Puss in Boots (voice of ANTONIO BANDERAS), and softened up. Now married and with three kids celebrating their first birthday, Shrek finds himself stuck in what he thinks is a monotonous life, repeatedly doing domestic chores and viewed as something of a B-level celebrity rather than a fearsome monster by the tourists.

Accordingly, the diminutive and ever-scheming Rumpelstiltskin (voice of WALT DOHRN) -- who nearly got Fiona's parents, King Harold (voice of JOHN CLEESE) and Queen Lillian (voice of JULIE ANDREWS), to sign over control of Far Far Away to him in exchange for breaking their daughter's curse until Shrek beat him to it in the past -- senses an opportunity.

He promises to return Shrek back to his carefree glory days in exchange for just one from his past. Shrek doesn't care which one, signs the contract, and ends up once again as a feared swamp ogre. The only problem is that Rumpelstiltskin took away the day of Shrek's birth, meaning he was never born and thus didn't rescue Fiona from her curse. As a result, Rumpelstiltskin now rules the land through witches that capture ogres for him, while the likes of Pinocchio, the Gingerbread Man and Donkey work for him.

The bigger problem is that since Shrek was never born, he only has one day of existence in this alternate reality. To make things worse, no one knows him, be that Donkey, a now obese Puss in Boots, or Fiona. She's now the fierce leader of the Ogre resistance movement, with other ogres such as Brogan (voice of JON HAMM) and cook Cookie (voice of CRAIG ROBINSON) following her orders to overthrow Rumpelstiltskin. With time running out, Shrek must convince Donkey and Puss in Boots to help him, all while trying to get love's true kiss from Fiona, the only thing that will break his contract with Rumpelstiltskin and return things to normal.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Now I think I'm going down to the well tonight, and I'm going to drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it, but I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back, trying to recapture, a little of the glory of...
Well time slips away, and leaves you with nothing mister, but boring stories of...glory days.
Glory days, well they'll pass you by.
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days...

"Glory Days" Bruce Springsteen

Although "The Boss" was only 36-years-old when he wrote that catchy song and -- being at the top of his career with his "Born in the U.S.A." album -- was not remotely afflicted with the "What's happened to me?" and "I've grown old" realization philosophy, he certainly tapped into a common mindset for many middle-aged people.

That's particularly true for parents and -- stereotypically or not -- especially for dads who think that the requirements and demands of being a husband, father and worker indeed mean that their glory days have passed them by. For them, the fun and carefree lifestyle is gone and has been replaced by minor domestic irritants that multiply into something bigger. Coupled with the monotony of it all, that often leads to doing dumb things in the name of a midlife crisis.

Accordingly, many a dad might just empathize with the title character when dragged along to see him in "Shrek Forever After." And that's not just because the green swamp ogre has had it up to his tiny trumpet ears with being a tourist attraction rather than feared monster, going through the daily care of his three young kids, and generally watching his individuality and freedom slowly evaporate. Instead, it's because real-life dads (and moms in this case) will have that "Groundhog Day" feeling of "Didn't we just see a 'Shrek' movie" and/or "We have to see another animated film...and in 3D?" Oh the humanity (and Ogranity)!

To be fair, it's been three years since the less than enthusiastically received "Shrek the Third," an offering that somewhat tainted many a viewer's opinion of the Far Far Away characters who first visited and so mightily entertained us in 2001 and then again in 2004. With the three preceding flicks having run through just about every fairy tale related joke and pop culture riffs, director Mike Mitchell ("Surviving Christmas" and "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo") and screenwriters Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke have opted to go the existential crisis route (yea, the kids will love that) mixed with the sci-fi based alternate reality plot.

While the latter -- where Shrek wishes for a day of his old life back but ends up in a world where his wife Fiona, and friends Donkey and Puss in Boots no longer recognize him -- would seem to provide for a storyline that would inject some freshness into the proceedings, it's essentially just taken us back to square one, albeit an alternate version of that.

In other words, Shrek has to once again befriend the talking jackass and swashbuckling feline in order to get a "true love" kiss from his fellow ogre in order to make everything right. And that's all while dealing with a diminutive and high-strung despot (Rumpelstiltskin this time rather than Lord Farquaad the first go-round).

Yes, there are still some decent laughs to be had, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas are again in top-form voicing their characters, and the animators continue the series tradition of delivering some hilarious facial reactions from them and other characters. But Mike Myers doesn't really seem to have the same sort of spirit in him for this fourth outing (granted, the character is written that way, but perhaps the actor is still recovering from the backlash that followed the ill-begotten "The Love Guru"), while having Cameron Diaz now voicing a rebel ogre leader rather than princess doesn't really add much to that character.

The latter also holds true for the addition of 3D to the mix. The first three films (okay, really just the first two) worked just fine without it, and here it feels like both a "let's follow the moviemaking crowd" and "gee, we can generate more cash flow since tickets to 3D films cost more" mentality. If anything, the added dimension actually detracts from the visuals, unnecessarily muddying them in terms of decreased color saturation and overall brightness. A few moments do make use of the technology, but for the most part it's an unnecessary addition.

As was the case with the third outing, this one isn't terrible. It just feels mediocre and recycled (including various montages featuring old pop songs), using the "It's a Wonderful Life" themes to try to breathe some new life into a series that's now looking back on its own glory days. I'm sure it will make beaucoup bucks, but just as is the case in the film where people try to pass off others as the real Shrek in order to win a handsome award, this one feels like an imitator as well. "Shrek Forever After" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 15, 2010 / Posted May 21, 2010

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