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`HEDGE' SLAMS CONSUMERISM - BUT SURE LOVES ITS JUNK FOOD.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

A nacho-cheese-flavored environmental family movie, ``Over the Hedge'' has a little something for everyone. It gently rails against a culture of consumption even as it extols the joys of caffeinated soft drinks and processed foods. What edge ``Hedge'' has is tempered by an adherence to the family-film staple plot of an outsider learning that me-first thinking has nothing on the joys of friendship and family.

Ultimately, the movie's smorgasbord approach to story works because it contains enough humor, cleverly conceived characters and capers to compensate for its dramatic shortcomings. Yes, the film's hyperactive, food-focused squirrel calls to mind Scrat from the ``Ice Age'' pictures. No, it does not make any sense to stump for the environment while sending the message that potato chips (coming from a can, no less) constitute nothing less than manna from the heavens.

But when you've Wanda Sykes going to town as a sass-talking skunk, William Shatner using his vast experience with death (and near death) acting to get into the psyche of a possum, and Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara utilizing their shared Second City history to bring out the best in a husband-and-wife porcupine team, such contradictions don't grate on you, particularly over a zippy, 84-minute running time.

``Hedge'' follows an opportunistic raccoon named RJ (Bruce Willis) who enrages a sleeping bear (Nick Nolte) by destroying his cave's cache of junk food, forcing him to enlist the help of a ragtag family of foragers in order to replace the bear's victuals before its hibernation period ends.

RJ's newfound allies -- which include the animals already mentioned as well as a cautious turtle (Garry Shandling) and a spastic squirrel (Steve Carell) -- have awakened to discover that their forest habitat has been cut in half by a new housing development. What separates the critters from the humans is the hedge, initially viewed by the animals with the kind of wonder the apelike hominids of ``2001'' had for the mysterious black monolith.

The close presence of humans presents both opportunities (proximity to food) and dangers (an uptight career woman, voiced by Allison Janney, hires Thomas Haden Church's ``Verminator'' to deep-six the animals). It also sets up most of the movie's funniest situations, such as when RJ spots two Girl Scouts selling their famous wares, ``cookies so good,'' he explains to the others, ``that they're delivered by uniformed officers.''

If the movie's pro-family sentiments feel a tad pat, its action-adventure finale offers more smarts and excitement than anything found in ``Mission: Impossible III.'' It'll send you out of the theater on a high, not unlike the sugar-fueled elation experienced by the movie's heroes.

You might want to pack a stash of carrot sticks and apple slices for the kids.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

OVER THE HEDGE - Three stars

(PG: rude humor, mild comic action)

Starring: Voices of Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Wanda Sykes, Steve Carell.

Director: Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick.

Running time: 1 hr. 24 min.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: Family film is funny enough to compensate for pat sentiments and the somewhat contradictory message it sends about consumption.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Hammy, the hyperactive, food-obsessed squirrel, is voiced by Steve Carell.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 19, 2006
Words:537
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