Now in his 60s, durable Franco-Belgian comicbook cowboy Lucky Luke starts off with a bang, meanders in the middle and comes home strong in the amusing toon “Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure.” Latest of many bigscreen and smallscreen incarnations disappointed in France and tanked in Belgium earlier this year, but has since loaded $1 million into the saddle bags at Greek and Turkish saloons, suggesting a modest future in territories less familiar with the laid-back do-gooder. Ideal for fests with children’s sidebars, the pop culture-savvy pic looks limited to ancillary Stateside.
As popular as Tintin and Asterix on home turf, the title character looks much more respectable than the shaggy, cigarette-puffing cowpoke drawn by Belgian artist Morris (Maurice de Bevere) in 1946, and most famously written by Rene Goscinny (“Asterix”) from 1955-1977. Long limbed, non-smoking Luke could now pass as the more worldly cousin of the similarly dressed and drawn Woody from “Toy Story.”
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Crackerjack opening is set in New York, 1855. Lounging around in fancy duds with wise-cracking horse Jolly Jumper and goofy mutt Rantanplan, Luke is called into action when the Dalton gang busts out of the clink. Four brothers of varying heights and intellectual capacities, the villains commandeer a cable car that hurtles up and down fire escapes, across rooftops and, in one hilarious moment, slices a square high-rise in half to show how the famously triangular Flatiron building was created. (Real structure didn’t go up until 1902, but who cares?)
Rollicking ride continues with Luke escorting a multicultural band of settlers to Californian land sold by shady vendor Edgar Crook — a trek that includes wagon trains scaling the monuments in Monument Valley and executing a wonderfully funny series of maneuvers to outwit marauding injuns. Shot from overhead, the sequence looks like an Esther Williams water ballet in the desert. When the dust settles, everyone puts on nicotine patches instead of smoking the peace pipe.
Luke is engagingly voiced by Lambert Wilson with just the right amount of ooh-la-la in his tone, but the supporting characters don’t quite take off. The Dalton gang’s attempts to recover hidden gold lack originality, and Luke’s romance with virginal schoolteacher Miss Littletown never really gels. On the plus side, debut helmer Olivier Jean-Marie (graduating from directing eps in the 2001 made-for-tube “Lucky Luke” ‘toons) is never at a loss for clever visuals that both parody and pay homage to classic American and spaghetti Westerns.
Colorful 2-D imagery with sharp facial lines and bendy bodies is computer-generated to resemble the look of high-end, cel-drawn features of the pre-Pixar era. Busy background layout team has snuck plenty of amusing bits and pieces into the scenery. Bouncy score by Herve Lavandier rounds out a classy tech package.