An irritating 83-minute music montage posing as a feature film, "Zoom" is the worst family release so far this year. Loud, unctuous and outdated with hit pop-rock songs from three to five years ago, director Peter Hewitt (2004's "Garfield
") and screenwriters Adam Rifkin (1998's "Small Soldiers") and Michael Berenbaum (2003's "Elf
") also blatantly rip off Marvel's "X-Men" comic as well as 2005's "Sky High
," both of which resemble the Second Coming in comparison to this worthless junk pile of a superhero comedy.
Nearly plotless and always aimless, "Zoom" stars Tim Allen (2006's "The Shaggy Dog
") as Jack Shepard, an auto mechanic who was once a powerful and revered superhero named Captain Zoom. He is called out of retirement by the geeky Marsha Holloway (Courteney Cox) and scientist Dr. Grant (Chevy Chase), who have been instructed by General Larraby (Rip Torn) to bring Jack back to their secret Area 52 facility in order to train a chosen group of superpowered youngsters. Jack slowly learns to let go of his defenses and befriend the kids17-year-old invisible boy Dylan West (Michael Cassidy); telekinetic 16-year-old Summer Jones (Kate Mara); super-sized 12-year-old Tucker Williams (Spencer Breslin); and extra-strengthened 6-year-old Cindy Collins (Ryan Newman)all the while preparing them for a battle against a looming mysterious adversary who may have ties to Jack's past.
If "Zoom" achieves any feat, however dubious, it is the ability to throw in a fart joke, a burp joke and a snot joke all within a two-minute span. Though this may be a cinematic first, it's not exactly a goal worth striving for, especially when the green snot blows like a bubble out of someone's nose and consequently bursts all over the rest of the onlookers. With this occurring in the opening fifteen minutes and no major storyline to speak of until the last fifteen minutes, director Peter Hewitt is free to crank up the Smash Mouth soundtrack and let the movie montages do the work for him. The pacing, akin to a hyperactive tot with a sugar high, pounds the viewers over the head with frenetic editing and a bombastic aural presentation, all the while keeping things aimed squarely at the 7-year-olds in the audience. Attempts at more adult-oriented jokes that waver on the side of blatant stereotypesat one point, Jack tells General Larraby, "For a straight guy, you're awfully dramatic"are truly bizarre and not funny in the least.
Without a driving conflict to speak of, the film puts a lot of emphasis on Jack's reluctance to bond with his young would-be superheroes. The problem with this flimsy accusation is that it always comes only one scene after Jack is seen playing softball with the kids or putting them through training exercises. As simplistic as "Zoom" already is, the picture is laughably unskilled in the very fundamentals of continuity and Filmmaking 101. Tucker Williams, for example, is supposed to use his overweight build as a jumping-off point to blow up any body part he wants. All well and good, but his "normal" chunky size also changes from scene to scene and carelessly looks like a pillow stuffed under his shirt. Another oddball scene finds the kids gleefully and maliciously terrorizing Dr. Grant by unleashing rain, snow, lightning and hurricanes on him while he is locked in a weather-controlled lab. No mention of this is made ever again, and the kids and Dr. Grant remain on good terms afterwards.
In addition to being too reminiscent for comfort to "Sky High
," which was smart and sweet and entertaining where this one is idiotic and obnoxiously juvenile, the film also steals from something as random as 2002's "Mr. Deeds
," with a UFO standing in for a helicopter during a pitstop to pick up food at Wendy's. No, that's not all. The use of Queen/David Bowie's "Under Pressure" (heard here in a cover version) is mimicked from the opening montage of 2004's R-rated "The Girl Next Door
." Theft from an unlikely source is still theft any way you shake it.
Enduring "Zoom" is a small price to pay when stacked up against the embarrassment the film will cause the actors in years to come. Tim Allen, at least, is safe; he's the go-to guy for crappy family flicks, and doesn't even try here to look anything but bored and self-defeated. Courteney Cox (2005's "The Longest Yard
") does a lot with a little as Marsha Holloway, a die-hard superhero enthusiast and professed klutz, but it's painful watching someone of her caliber have to act below her normal intelligence. As for the underworked, undervalued Chevy Chase (2002's "Orange County
"), his role consists of standing still, making goofy faces, and having a variety of liquefied substances blasted onto his face. Of the younger performers, Spencer Breslin (2004's "Raising Helen
") is upstaged by his fake-looking fat suit; Ryan Newman (2006's "Monster House
") is an absolute darling as Cindy Collins (the reason the film earns a half-star); and Kate Mara and Kevin Zegers look confused about how they have gone from being a part of "Brokeback Mountain
" and "Transamerica
," respectively, to something as artless as this within eight short months.
"Zoom" is stagnant, unimaginative and perplexing, a valueless and mind-numbing exercise in emptiness that is guaranteed to fry the brains of children and put adults through hell. Throw in some chintzy special effects and an "action" finale that reminds me of the last time I heard a dog whimper, and what you have is a movie that went unscreened for critics for many understandable reasons, all of which Columbia Pictures is well aware of. Once audiences get a sniff of the stench, "Zoom" should do just that as it exits theaters and heads to its rightful place: DVD bargain bins.