Daffy Duck (voiced by Joe Alaskey) is not a happy waterfowl as he sits in the board room of Warner Bros. He feels he is forever playing second fiddle to Bugs Bunny (also Alaskey) and is reluctant to appear in the rabbit's new movie, but the executives present are at a loss to explain his appeal. As Bugs sits back in effortlessly casual fashion, Daffy grows more and more irate until one of the execs, Kate (Jenna Elfman) makes a rash decision: Daffy is to be sacked and thrown out of the studio. This prompts the duck to run rampant through the buildings as security guard DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser) tries to catch him - maybe Daffy would be a good star after all?
Especially as this live action-animation combination seems to hold great sympathy for the little black duck, meaning Back in Action was less a Bugs Bunny movie than the previous attempt at this kind of thing, Space Jam, had been. And in the hands of director Joe Dante, that's a relief because Space Jam was nothing short of an abomination so if nothing else here we had someone in charge who understood the appeal of the characters and humour: this was no mere cash-in. Well, it might have started as a cash-in, but Dante fought the execs (who might resemble the ones at the start of this film) to pack in as many gags as possible.
The film was not a hit, and that's maybe perhaps down to changing styles. The Looney Tunes characters may still be popular, but that's largely down to their past incarnations and this production is very much in the thrall of the past, so any updating here was none too smooth. The slapstick is here, but as with Who Framed Roger Rabbit mixing it with the "real world" rendered it a little uncomfortable: did we really weant to see guest star Heather Locklear administering a karate chop to Daffy's throat? She never seemed so violent before, after all.
The plot gets it right, however, in that it's a flimsy excuse to pack in as many jokes as possible into ninety minutes, and not only that, but pop culture references as well. DJ's father is Damian Drake, a star known for playing a James Bond type of superspy, so who better to play him than ex-007 Timothy Dalton? That's the kind of in-joke we are dealing with. As Damian has been captured by the evil head of the Acme Corporation (as essayed by a bespectacled Steve Martin as if he is suffering from a bad cold), it's up to DJ and Daffy to find the Blue Monkey Diamond, a trip that initially takes them to Las Vegas and Yosemite Sam's casino.
Some of the humour is surprisingly subtle (the red balloon over Paris, for example), but much is of the sledgehammer variety and effective enough. It's just that while you appreciate the attention to detail that has gone into creating it, little of it makes for sustained hilarity. Elfman is too frosty as the exec teaming up with Bugs to track Daffy down and give him his old job back, Martin is odd without being funny, but Fraser, who has played cartoon characters himself, is a decent foil. With this amount of imagination on show, there are going to be highlights and the biggest one for cult movie fans has to be the Area 52 sequence which features a selection of classic science fiction celebs, from Robbie the Robot to the Daleks. If Back in Action is a bumpy ride, then bits like that are what make it worth seeing - it's an affectionate tribute and let us be thankful for that. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
American director of science fiction and horror, a former critic who got his big break from Roger Corman directing Hollywood Boulevard. Piranha was next, and he had big hits with The Howling and Gremlins. But his less successful films can be as interesting: Explorers didn't do as well as he had hoped, but illustrated the love of pop culture that is apparent in all his work.