PUSS IN BOOTS (2011) (**1/2)
Part of what made SHREK 2 work was the addition of Puss in Boots to the franchise. It's not surprising that he would get his own film. Unfortunately some of the sharpness the character brought to that film has been declawed for this one. The irreverent take on fairy tales is gone. In its place — cat jokes.
Don't get me wrong the cat gags are the funniest bits, but they don't have the layers that made the first two SHREK films special. In this origin story, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas, DESPERADO) is cast as an orphan who becomes blood brothers with fellow orphan outcast Humpty Dumpty (Zack Galifianakis, THE HANGOVER). They are in search of the magic beans of legend. The duo continuously get in trouble until one day Puss gets a taste of being a hero and vows to go straight. Bad blood forms and Puss is wrongfully believed an outlaw. Years later he is reunited with Humpty, who now has a female feline thief sidekick named Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek, DESPERADO). Humpty wants to put their past behind them and work together to steal the magic beans from the notorious murderers Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thonrton, SLINGBLADE & Amy Sedaris, STRANGERS WITH CANDY).
The story kicks off with an exciting action sequence where Puss races across rooftops that really injects the film with energy and fun. For about half the film, the characters and gags are engaging, but then it falls into a conventional plot structure, leaving the rest predictable at every step. The plot borrows a great deal from Sergio Leone type films. There is also a reveal to start the third act that makes a lot that came before seem unbelievably complex. It’ll make you believe that Bond villains’ plots are sensible.
The repairing of the DESPERADO duo of Banderas and Hayek is one of the bright spots. The playful relationship that develops between Puss and Kitty is reminiscent of classic adversarial romances of the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s like having a Spanish Bob Hope comedy… but with cats. Unfortunately again, their story takes a back seat to the relationship between Puss and Humpty. As the egg, Galifianakis sounds a great deal like Patton Oswald in RATATOUILLE. Where there is some spark between Puss and Kitty, there is a mismatch between Puss and Humpty. You know exactly how things will turn out the second the flashback to how the adopted brothers met ends.
Some of the fairy tale elements, like the combination of the Humpty and the golden goose tale, have some cleverness, but none of it has the edge that the early SHREK films have. Where those films felt like they were skewering sacred cows, this film, like the latter SHREK sequels, seems content with puns and easy gags. With great timing, the jokes so often do work. For the less discerning or younger viewer this might be enough. But the more familiar the plot gets the less fresh everything seems and I found myself laughing less and wanting more. It’s more of a disappointment than a failure. The production is as handsome as its lead character thinks he is, but the hairballs of an origin story get caught in his throat too often.