Kids of all ages hungry for this summer’s dinosaur picture will be more than satisfied with “The Flintstones.” With all manner of friendly beasts, a superenergetic John Goodman and a colorful supporting cast inhabiting a Bedrock that resembles a Stone Age version of Steven Spielberg suburbia, this live-action translation of the perennial cartoon favorite is a fine popcorn picture for small fry, and perfectly inoffensive for adults. The strong shoulders of its star, the heavy promotional campaign and household-name title will carry Universal to brontosaurian B.O.
Watching this fast-paced, advisedly brief confection is akin to taking a quick spin on the Universal Studios tour with a detour through the City Walk attraction, so loaded is it with technical gizmos, showbiz in-jokes and product plugs. In a day when popular movies have more in common with theme parks than old-school artistic traditions, this one fits right in.
This film’s use of at least a dozen writers, of whom only three receive final screen credit, was widely reported, and choice of a storyline involving embezzlement is slightly puzzling given the 7-year-old target audience. Millions of kids will be learning the word for financial trickery if they ask mommy and daddy about it during unspoolings.
Inside humor is tipped from the outset, as opening title announces a “Steven Spielrock” presentation. First reel will keep tykes’ eyes popping, as the cast of dinosaurs is introduced in rapid succession along with the human characters.
There are giant reptiles working in the rock quarry where Fred Flintstone (Goodman) and his buddies toil, and dog-and-cat-like pets at home. Fred paddles his car along with his outsized feet and takes his family to the drive-in to see George Lucas’ “Tar Wars.”
Much of the imagination poured into the pic — production design by William Sandell and his team, the costumes by Rosanna Norton and the special-effects details by many hands — is exhausted very quickly. Bedrock is a town of slanting rock roofs with animals that wash dishes with their trunks and “Bedrock’s Most Wanted,” hosted by Jay Leno, playing on Stone Age TV.
Fred, of course, is the happy, rock-solid working man, thick of bicep and skull, who shockingly wins a promotion out of the rock pile and into the executive suites of Slate & Co. when his best friend Barney Rubble (Rick Moranis) substitutes his own exam answers for Fred’s. The boss (Kyle MacLachlan) and his foxy secretary (Halle Berry) easily manipulate the lazy simpleton for their own financial ends, setting him up for a big fall as they plot to make off with ill-gotten gains.
Meanwhile, at home, Fred manages to get in hot water with his sprightly wife Wilma (Elizabeth Perkins), whose mother (Elizabeth Taylor) keeps harping about how Wilma could have done a lot better in her choice of husband, and still might do so. After lightly going through the motions of a plot, it all ends up in the quarry, where assorted machinery provides the excuse for a parade of slapstick gags and amusement park-like predicaments that seem mostly lumbering.
After the initial pleasure of seeing a cartoon world reinvented for live action, and well known toon characters becoming flesh and blood, there is little to really compel great interest, but the slew of filmmakers have come up with enough contempo references, little jokes and bits of business to keep things busy.
Pic centers very squarely on Goodman, and he brings tremendous energy and enthusiasm to the role of Fred. It’s no insult to say that he’s quite credible as a caveman, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone else could so plausibly convey both the cartoonlike and everyman qualities most needed for the role.
Other performers take a relative back seat but are also well cast. Perkins, Moranis and Rosie O’Donnell are perfectly fine as Wilma, Barney and Betty Rubble. MacLachlan is suitable as the hissable yuppie villain, and Berry is slinky as his seductive aide-de-camp. Given that it requires her almost exclusively to complain about Fred, the mother role brings out Taylor’s coarse side, although she looks beauteous in her first screen appearance in some time and amusingly ends up in the mouth of a dinosaur. Harvey Korman does very nicely providing a talking bird with an aristocratic voice.
For adults, one significant point of interest here is that the ostensible attitude of this money machine of a movie, which is so loaded with highly calculated marketing and product plugs, is pro-working stiff and anti-big business. Such are the paradoxes and contradictions of capitalism.
Jokiness extends to the final credits, which feature Flintstone-related tunes in rap, reggae and Sex Pistols styles.