SHREK FOREVER AFTER (2010) (**)
In my review for SHREK THE THIRD, I said, "[it] doesn’t walk the edge like the other films, but there are still enough flares of that same good ol’ SHREK that you remember why you were friends in the first place." Three years later those flares have completely burned out. This "what if Shrek were never born" fantasy is the kind of desperate plot that tired sitcoms resort to.
Shrek (Mike Myers, AUSTIN POWERS) has given up his kingdom to settle down in the swamp with Fiona (Cameron Diaz, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) and the kids. The only problem is his repetitive and safe domestic life doesn't sit well with the ogre who can no longer scare a child. So when Rumpelstiltskin (Watt Dohrn) makes Shrek a deal to trade one day from his childhood for one more day as a real ogre, the big green dummy signs on the dotted line.
In this alternative universe where ogres are again feared, Rumpelstiltskin has taken over Far Far Away and Fiona is now the leader of an outlaw ogre rebellion. Shrek's best friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy, DREAMGIRLS) is a slave to witches and never heard of Shrek. And now the once dashing swordsman Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas, DESPERADO) is less like Zorro and more like Garfield.
Director Mike Mitchell (DEUCE BIGALOW: MALE GIGOLO) and writers Josh Klausner (SHREK THE THIRD) and Darren Lemke have drained all the satire from the franchise in favor of tired sitcom mid-life crisis gags. Whether its sappy speeches or flat tired jokes, there is nothing original. After Shrek has an outburst at his kids' birthday party, Fiona gives him one of those god-awful tongue-lashings about loving the life he has that I was expecting a commercial break to follow. So many jokes just trickle out of the characters mouths and die on contact. For a time I thought Jiminey and his family showed up at the theater.
Gone is the irreverent skewering of fairy tales and pop culture that made the first film so great. Remember in the original when Gingerbread Man got his legs cut off in an interrogation scene or when Fiona sang a song that made a blue bird explode and then they ate the bird's eggs? That's too edgy for this 8 o'clock hour programming. Shrek has become a shell of his former self. As he complains about losing his ogre identity over martinis, I wished he'd start showing his home videos instead. It's like listening to Bill Gates complain about how he no longer has time for computer programming, only more boring.
The plot drags along drawing out the inevitable kiss between Shrek and Fiona that is supposed to change everything back to normal. In the meantime, we get stale gags where Shrek tries to woo the warrior Fiona with a gift basket containing coupons for one free kiss. Meanwhile, Rumplestiltskin, who is voiced wonderfully by DreamWorks story artist Dohrn, sends out his interchangeable witches to find Shrek. There are some funny moments with him and his mood-appropriate wigs, but like any sitcom those decent jokes will be beat into the ground until they are making you cry for mercy. FYI: silly words like chimichanga do not a punchline make.
Because this is the last theatrical SHREK, DreamWorks is advertising SHREK FOREVER AFTER (at least they resisted the urge to call it SHREK 4-EVER AFTER) as The Final Chapter. Sounds like a horror film title. But what's really scary is this is a precursor to the endless SHREK holiday specials to come. I mean Shrek could forget Valentine's Day and have to rush out last minute to get Fiona slugs and frog balloons. Or on Groundhog's Day, Shrek could lament seeing the shadow of his franchise's former potential.