`Stuart' sequel relies too heavily on the cheese

July 19, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Stuart Little 2 holds firmly to the law of diminishing returns when it comes to movie sequels: Content to strive for nothing more than a replication of the earlier success, it manages to pretty much ignore all the strengths of the earlier film while exacerbating all its faults.

We get to see all manner of close-ups of the adorable little Stuart, a mouse who's been adopted and is being raised as one of their own by the very human (and, of course, very humane) Little family. Which serves to remind us that mice - even computer-generated mice - do not have the most expressive faces. We get to watch a veritable cornucopia of all things cute, including a talking mouse, a talking mouse flying a toy plane, and a talking mouse falling in love with a talking bird. Which serves to remind us how easy it is to OD on cute. And we get lots of screen time for Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie, who play Ma and Pa Little. Which serves to remind us that actors who consistently overplay their scenes soon wear out their welcomes.

In short, we get little of the charm, whimsy and sense of benign mischief that made Stuart Little such an unexpected pleasure for audiences of all ages. Instead, we get 72 heavy-handed, cloying minutes (hey, at least it's short) that suggest the first film's appeal to all but the youngest filmgoers was only an accident.

The movie opens with Stuart (voiced again by Michael J. Fox) firmly ensconced as a member of the unbearably treacly Little family (if I never again have to listen to their incessant greetings of "Little hey, Little ho! Little high, Little low!" I'll die a happy man). True, he's a happy mouse, but not entirely; he doesn't always fit in with the kids at school (an amusing - but not as amusing as it could be - soccer game bears that out), his mom is way-overprotective, and gosh darn it, he needs a friend his own size.

Dad, a font of platitudes of the sort even Mike Brady (beloved of The Brady Bunch) would find tiresome, does his best to buoy his boy's spirits. There's always a silver lining, the lonely mouse is reassured ad infinitum.

Stuart's a little skeptical at first, but then proof of the (tired) old adage literally drops from the sky in the form of a cute, squeaky-voiced little bird named Margalo (Melanie Griffith) whose wing has been hurt while trying to escape the clutches of a particularly nasty falcon named Falcon (James Woods). Stuart and Margalo start making all manner of goo-goo eyes at one another, Mom and Dad Little continue smiling a lot (except for when they're worried about Stuart) and all seems right with the world.

But, of course, it isn't. Margalo is not exactly who she appears to be. And soon, Stuart is out braving the wilds of New York City - accompanied, thank goodness, by family cat Snowbell (Nathan Lane), a bundle of subversive neuroses who gets just about all the movie's good lines.

Like its predecessor, Stuart Little 2 is designed to be fun for the whole family, and it's certainly as safe a film as is currently on display at the local multiplex. Even the PG rating seems a mite harsh; it's hard to imagine even the youngest child not being able to handle what goes on here.

Unfortunately, returning director Rob Minkoff, working this time with screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost), aspires to nothing here; they're content with simply keeping the money-making franchise (Stuart Little brought in more than $300 million at the box office) going strong. There's little in 2 that wasn't touched on in 1, and adding another cute little critter to the mix doesn't amount to anything beyond replicating a winning formula.

Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry Maguire) is turning into more of a real kid as he grows older, and less of the sort of adorable urchin who drive some people to distraction; he makes a believable older brother. The movie has some nice, thrilling touches, including a mouse-sized airplane ride through Central Park, that should keep kids' attention. And Fox, as Stuart, seems to have a better understanding of his character than anyone behind the camera, never sounding like he has any problem playing a sneaker-wearing mouse.

Too bad the same can't be said for Davis and Laurie, two fine actors who spend so much time winking at the audience, as though they know they're better than this piece of silly make-believe, that it's a wonder they didn't ask that their names be removed from the credits. In a film like Stuart Little 2, there's no place for mock sincerity; regrettably, that's the most consistent emotion they are able to show.

Stuart Little 2

Starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie

Directed by Rob Minkoff

Released by Columbia Pictures

Rated PG (brief mild language)

Time 72 minutes

Sun Score: * 1/2

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