Friday, March 31, 2017

Look Who's Talking Like a Boss: "Boss Baby" milks just enough wit from strange premise

The Boss Baby (2017)
97 min., rated PG.

Guileless but mischievous, animated comedy “The Boss Baby” hits the tickle spot every now and then, even if it will most likely fade from memory following the length of the running time. Written by Michael McCullers (2008’s “Baby Mama”) and directed by Tom McGrath (he of the three “Madagascar” films and minor 2010 animated effort “Megamind”), this adaptation of a 2010 children’s book by Marla Frazee is adorable and bizarre all at once, and maybe even too needlessly complicated for its own good. Without pandering as much as one might expect in the humor department, "The Boss Baby" offers enough moments of visual and verbal wit from such an appreciably strange premise to offset the occasionally too-easy jokes of the diaper variety. How does one even resist 97 minutes of Alec Baldwin voice-puppeteering a baby business shark? You don't.

7-year-old Tim Templeton (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi) likes being an only child. He adores his bedtime ritual when Mom (Lisa Kudrow) and Dad (Jimmy Kimmel) sing him The Beatles’ “Blackbird” to sleep. Tim is soon faced with the fear of being forgotten when his baby brother arrives, but major suspicion sets in when his family’s new addition gets dropped off by a taxi and dances up to the door wearing a business suit and tie with a briefcase and Rolex. To Tim's eyes and his eyes only apparently, this is no ordinary baby. Competition instantly ensues between Tim and Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin), who was actually sent by company BabyCorp to pull off a mission to make sure babies are getting just as much love as puppies. They may not get along swimmingly at first, but Tim must soon partner up with Boss Baby to make sure Baby Corp stays in business and defeat a baddie by the name of Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi), a former Boss Baby and now Tim’s parents’ boss at Puppy Co., while finding the special formula that prevents the bossy infant from becoming a real crying baby. It's all very complex.

Kids and adults alike will scratch their heads, learning where babies really come from. You see, “The Boss Baby” exists in an alternate reality where Tim’s mother is shown with a baby bump, but the babies are actually churned out in a factory with a conveyor belt. Instead of going immediately home to a family because he fails a tickle test, Boss Baby gets sent to management in BabyCorp, where baby geniuses make it their mission to go up against puppy corporations and see to it that families don’t stop having babies. Even though Boss Baby only shows his true cunning side to Tim, the parents evidently think nothing of their newborn son showing at their door and just take the business suit he wears as a cute quirk. One either goes with the very loose logistics or calls ca-ca on the whole enterprise

With a to-the-point title and a high-concept premise—he’s a baby who dresses and acts like a corporate boss—the film actually grows overplotted when straying from Tim and Boss Baby’s sibling rivalry and into a generally formulaic espionage plot. A meeting that Boss Baby heads with a group of neighborhood babies is amusing stuff, as is a slapstick chase in the backyard showing the juxtaposition between parental perspectives and the actual frantic mayhem between Tim and Boss Baby, along with his baby associates. That complication should have been enough on its own. Somewhere along the way, though, screenwriter Michael McCullers must have thought the story needed a Big Bad with a dastardly plan involving a rocket full of puppies, but there's the sneaking suspicion that nothing of the sort would be found in the source material, a 36-page picture book.

Alec Baldwin is inspired casting as Boss Baby. One can just imagine the actor having a ball in the recording booth because Baldwin completely sells it as this fast-talking mini-businessman making calls on a Fisher-Price phone and throwing cash around as bribery. Miles Christopher Bakshi leads the way as our 7-year-old hero and lends a good amount of charm and ring of truth to a child's fear of losing attention from their parents. Tobey Maguire provides the narration as an adult Tim, but it only baffles the viewer even more on what was real and what was part of his overactive imagination as a child. The flight-of-fancy sections that bring Tim’s imaginary adventures to life are creatively visualized and energetic through colorful, appealingly retro animation, and there is some funny business with Tim’s wizard alarm clock Wizzy, a Gandalf knockoff.

For one bare bottom joke and infant frontal nudity that comes with a censor, there are even more subversive, slightly edgy touches to almost place "The Boss Baby" into curiosity territory. If the villain's evil scheme to wipe out any demand for babies wasn’t loopy enough for you, there is the notion that teleportation can be accessed through sucking on a pacifier and a climax that randomly throws in an airplane full of pelvis-shaking Elvis impersonators en route to Las Vegas. A “cookies are for closers” line being in reference to the Alec Baldwin-starrer “Glengarry Glen Ross” will surely go over the little tykes’ heads, but it’s a sneakily clever Easter Egg for grown-ups. From the fine folks at DreamWorks, “The Boss Baby” goes down easily as a fun diversion, from Alec Baldwin's very entertaining turn to even some of the story's surreal absurdities. Just drop your many, many questions scrutinizing the plot into the diaper genie.

Grade: B - 

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