"Hop" has one of the cutest bunnies you'll ever see and plenty of other eye candy among its computer-generated visuals, yet there's not much bounce to the story behind this interspecies buddy comedy.
Letting bad-boy Russell Brand supply the voice of the Easter bunny sounds like a promising way to add spice to a warm and fuzzy family flick. Too bad the movie winds up about as bland as carrot-flavored jelly beans.
Its gooey sentiment and hare-brained gags are likely to appeal only to very young kids. The filmmakers trip up on their scattered attempts to inject some hipness to "Hop" for older children and parents (a bit about a rabbit apparently cooked in a pot is handled so tepidly, it barely registers as a halfhearted allusion to the boiled bunny in "Fatal Attraction," while a couple of Hugh Hefner-Playboy bunny riffs are just dreary).
Directed by Tim Hill, a veteran at blending live action and digital animation on "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties," "Hop" skips and jumps between the fantasy land beneath Easter Island (clever location scouting, huh?) - where rabbits and chicks manufacture holiday candy - and the human world of Fred O'Hare (clever character name, huh?).
Fred (James Marsden) is a grown-up slacker living with his parents, who hound him to get a job and move out. As a boy, Fred caught a forbidden glimpse of the Easter bunny making his rounds, and his destiny seems tied to the rabbit realm.
He's not the only disappointment to his parents. Down under Easter Island, young E.B. (voiced by Brand) is about to take over the family business from his dad, the Easter bunny (Hugh Laurie). But E.B. dreams of becoming a rock 'n' roll drummer and runs away to Hollywood to follow his bunny bliss.
E.B. just happens to come across Fred at a mansion where he's house-sitting. Let's see, mischievous, screwy rabbit, fridge full of carrots, rooms loaded with plush, pricey bedding. Inevitably, E.B. unleashes mayhem on Fred, who seems to be the only person surprised that a talking rabbit is running loose in Hollywood (in a couple of weirdly self-referential but very unfunny scenes, David Hasselhoff is among those who take a talking bunny in stride).
Written by the "Despicable Me" team of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, along with Brian Lynch, "Hop" mostly is a lot of slapstick adventures between E.B. and Fred. They gradually form a kinship, find common ground and go through all the other usual things that arise when man befriends rabbit, including taking on scheming chick Carlos (voiced by Hank Azaria), who wants to turn Easter into a poultry-run holiday.
The vocally dexterous Azaria brings some pep to "Hop," but most of the actors, among them Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins as Fred's parents, are left to doze as if they'd been up all night hiding goodies for the big Easter egg hunt.
After playing stick-in-the-mud mutant Cyclops in the first three "X-Men" movies, Marsden has gotten to show comic charm in such romps as "Enchanted" and "Hairspray." In "Hop," he comes across as a genuinely nice guy - keeping in mind that genuinely nice guys can be genuinely boring. Marsden's Fred is genuinely boring.
That leaves the movie hanging on Brand. His slightly spacy Anglo mutterings lend a strange warmth to E.B., whose adorable face could inspire an entire line of cuddly plush toys.
The animation is the movie's strong point, presenting a rainbow-colored world that should satisfy young children's cinematic sweet tooth. But Carlos' legion of chicks look like downy replicas of the yellow minions of "Despicable Me," while a trio of commando rabbits known as the Pink Berets are really annoying, down to their own dreadful theme song that plays over the end credits.
"Hop," a Universal release, is rated PG for some mild rude humor. Running time: 94 minutes. Two stars out of four.