‘Bee Movie’ not worth the buzz

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

It has been almost ten years since comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s hit TV show Seinfeld left the airwaves. Ever since, the show has been collecting new fans for Jerry Seinfeld, and those fans have been eagerly awaiting his next big thing, but Seinfeld has done surprisingly little since the show ended. So Seinfeld fans were excited when Bee Movie was announced.

Jerry Seinfeld’s eagerly anticipated animated comedy has finally hit movie screens but mostly with a thud. The movie is funny but lacks the imagination and originality one might expect from the Seinfeld creator.

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Bee Movie is not a bad movie. It is a good kids’ movie, but it is probably not what fans were expecting. It is one of the better, but not the best, animated films this year. The problem is that, generally speaking, Jerry Seinfeld fans are not eight years old. The eight-year-olds will delight in the gentle humor of Bee Movie but the Seinfeld fan base? Not so much so. If you were expecting something edgy, this is not it. The movie’s trailers on TV are more Seinfeld style humor than the actual film.

Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) and his best friend Adam Flayman (Mathew Broderick) have just graduated from Winger University and are all set to start careers at Honex Corporation, making honey, but Barry has second thoughts about settling into a single job right away.

He wants to see the world outside New Hive City, so he tags along with the only bees allowed outside, the “pollen jocks” who bring back pollen and nectar for the hive.

Barry gets separated from the group and is rescued by a Manhattan florist named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). Barry breaks the cardinal rule of the hive, to never speak to humans, so he can thank her. They talk and really hit it off.

Back in the hive, Barry tells Adam he “met someone,” but when Adam asks if she “is beeish” and says he hopes she’s “not a wasp,” because it would upset Barry’s parents, Barry confesses the whole truth: she’s human. His parents are upset but Barry isn’t really punished for the rule breaking. Instead he goes on Bee Larry King’s show. After some loafing around, with references to The Graduate, Barry ventures out again where he makes a shocking discovery: humans are selling honey. Bees are enslaved and so Barry decides to sue the human race and set his fellow bees free.

Bee Movie is pleasant enough, gently funny, but what is striking is how unimaginative the story is. Its best moments are at the start, when he explores the city and when we explore the hive, but it is fitful after that.

Jerry Seinfeld stars in, produced and co-wrote the script, so he has to take credit for the results. Reportedly, the idea for the film came out of Seinfeld’s attempt to make Steven Spielberg laugh by suggesting that they make a B movie about bees. Seinfeld may have trapped himself in this sticky situation.

Bee Movie has a sterling cast of voice actors, including John Goodman as the Southern lawyer defending the human honey-selling corporations, and Oprah Winfrey as the presiding judge at the trial. Chris Rock lends voice to a streetwise traveling mosquito, with aviator goggles, on his way to Alaska to score some moose blood, Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson play Barry’s doting parents and Patrick Warburton plays Vanessa’s obnoxious tennis partner and would-be boyfriend Ken.

Seinfeld humor comes out strongest at the start of the film, with some good jokes and lampooning of celebrities Larry King and Sting, and an especially merciless skewering of actor Ray Liotta (sure hope they are friends). Individual bits are funny but overall it is just too sweet and too bland.

At one point, when the consequences of Barry suing the humans over honey are not turning out as he expected, he says, “I never meant it to turn out like this.” One cannot help but wonder how many people in the theater thought that sentence might have been Seinfeld’s own reaction to this film, and even hoped, for just a moment, that Barry might do something more Seinfeld-like, turn to the audience and say “Hey, let’s start over.” But no such luck. Bee Movie is funny but not Seinfeld funny. Fans of the TV show will have to wait a little longer, at least, to see if Jerry can match that. For that reason, Bee Movie earns, at most, a B.