Despite buzz, 'Bee Movie' is a 'C' movie

Jerry Seinfeld's cartoon debut is lacking in sting.

Who could have predicted that, a decade after the end of his hit TV series, Jerry Seinfeld would reenter show business as an animated bee? A gnat, maybe, or a louse – but a bee?

"Bee Movie" is best viewed as an oddball career move rather than as a successful movie. Seinfeld not only voices its main character, Barry B. Benson, but also coproduced and co-wrote it for Dreamworks Animation. (The directors were Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner.) Seinfeld has figured out a way to sidle back into the big time without actually having to show his face. But his vocal inflections, his whiny expostulations, are as unmistakable as ever and should provide some small comfort to audience members still experiencing "Seinfeld" withdrawal.

For those of us who don't worship at the altar of that TV show, "Bee Movie" is unlikely to have much value beyond a few funny sequences. It lifts ideas from sources as disparate as "Finding Nemo" and "The Graduate" without ever really finding its own groove.

Barry is a college grad who balks at his imminent career as honey producer in New Hive City. Buzzing about in the human world beyond the hive, he becomes infatuated with Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), a beautiful florist who saved his life. Breaking a cardinal bee rule about not talking to humans, Barry thanks her, and a friendship ensues. Actually, it seems more like an infatuation on both sides, but let's not go there, OK?

Barry sues the human race when he discovers that people are selling bee honey. Despite his gumption, however, Barry remains a somewhat generic cartoon character without much edge. Bugs Bunny he's not. On those rare occasions when he shares screen time with Mouseblood the mosquito (hilariously voiced by Chris Rock), Barry fades into the CGI background.

Unlike the recent "Shrek" entries, "Bee Movie" at least doesn't go in for a plethora of product placements or a lot of wink-wink in-jokes aimed at the Hollywood crowd. Still, I wouldn't have minded a tad more seasoning for the adult audience; too much of "Bee Movie" plays like a kiddie show on steroids.

You'd never know from this movie, for instance, that bees are mysteriously dying all over the world. By coincidence, I saw "Bee Movie" the same week I saw the PBS documentary "Silence of the Bees," which predicts dire consequences for the human food supply if the crisis is not averted.

But forget that. Why didn't Seinfeld point out that a queen bee typically rules a hive attended to by 30,000 subjects, and that 100 or so males usually die of exhaustion after 30 days? Now there's a movie. Grade: C

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