By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
What the smurf good is a Smurf, anyway? I mean, other than providing a made-up word like "smurf" that can sub for any smurfing thing you want to say. Smurfs are blue, around three apples tall and scamper a lot. Other than that, I mean, what the smurf?
Do not attempt any drinking games based on how often "smurf" is spoken in The Smurfs. If this review's overuse of the word has gotten on your nerves, imagine reading for 85 more minutes. It's used in every grammatical sense, plus a few that Schoolhouse Rock skipped. Four screenwriters are credited on The Smurfs; half of their work is plugging in one word.
The other half is creating a reason to bring the Smurfs to Manhattan, a whirlpool subway to Central Park with the bad wizard Gargamel on their blue tails, as usual. Hank Azaria does a good impression of a cartoon as Gargamel, entirely without shame for doing it. Neil Patrick Harris and Glee's Jayma Mays also appear in the flesh, in bloodless performances as an expecting couple. Their chief duties are staring at places where Smurfs will be drawn later, and squirming like the little fellas are tickling them.
Director Raja Gosnell — who worked similar "magic" with Scooby-Doo and Beverly Hills Chihuahua — sets up the requisite scampers, including a centerpiece product placement of FAO Schwarz that will please shareholders. You haven't lived until you've seen Smurfs go Guitar Hero on Aerosmith's Walk This Way, and perhaps you shouldn't.
Having said that, The Smurfs may be mildly appealing for children under 8 and parents who've been dragged along. The scampering is slapsticky, and jokes about Smurfette being the only female elf get a naughty nudge from Katy Perry doing her voice. Yes, Perry actually teases: "I kissed a Smurf, and I liked it."
That's more amusing than Gargamel (a live, lunatic Hank Azaria) relieving himself in a restaurant's champagne bucket. Or when his henchcat Azrael coughs up a stunningly gross hairball containing a lock from Smurfette that Gargamel requires to continue his Smurf hunt. Yes, Azaria picks through the goo to get it. I don't believe those gags ever occurred to Smurfs creator Peyo but he was Belgian, and what do they know about comedy?
The Smurfs is no better than Yogi Bear or worse than a Chipmunks flick, and that's coming from someone who enjoyed the talking critters in Zookeeper. After the show, someone asked what I thought of The Smurfs. I deferred to the wisdom of Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez): "I didn't hate it as much as I expected to. But I still hated it."
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.