It can be tough living up to illustrious forbears. Ham III (voiced by Hot Rod star Andy Samberg) is the grandson of the first monkey in space. There’s no competing with that, so Ham prefers to be a big fish in a small pond, wowing the spectators with his cannonball act in a traveling circus. Why shoot for the moon when you can be a star?
He’s not best pleased when agents from NASA arrive and escort him to Cape Canaveral. And when it becomes clear they mean to sit him in a rocket, light the fuse, and worst of all, propel him into a black hole, Ham hatches an escape plan. This backfires in probably the film’s funniest bit of slapstick when the out of control chimp accidentally knocks over half a dozen rockets – they fall into each other like skittles – before a crowd of aghast VIPS.
Meanwhile, on Malgor, a newly discovered planet on the far side of the aforementioned black hole, the evil Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels) is wielding the last space probe NASA kindly deposited on his front garden as an instrument of terror to subjugate his own kind and build a replica of an opulent Las Vegas hotel – one of the magnificent human accomplishments recorded on the probe.
Can Ham and his fellow astronauts Titan (a self-important windbag magnificently voiced by Patrick Warburton) and Luna (Cheryl Hines, from Curb Your Enthusiasm) retrieve the probe, report back to Earth in time to save the space program from government cutbacks and rescue the inhabitants of Malgor from servitude?
Running a sketchy 81 minutes, the movie doesn’t pretend to invest much in these matters, but every five or ten minutes writer-director Kirk De Micco comes up with another passably diverting idea, be it the Valley of the Very Bad Things, the Cave of the Flesh-Devouring Beast, or a cute little bulb-shaped alien called Kilowatt (voiced by Kristen Chenoweth) who lights up whenever she panics (which is quite often).
De Micco peppers his script with references to 2001 and The Right Stuff, but unlike certain much more expensive Dreamworks’ animations we could mention he doesn’t just name check these cultural touchstone, he works up reasonably witty parodies. And while the movie has its share of dumb chimp puns, these all are spouted by Titan, who is meant to be a bore.
It’s not all good news by any means. The CGI animation is often plain ugly. That’s intentional where Zartog is concerned, but presumably a by-product of a low budget when it comes to our chimp heroes.
I wasn’t crazy about Ham III’s personality either. He’s supposed to be immature and reckless in a charmingly cavalier Tom Cruise fashion. But Samberg makes him too much of a jackass.
Comparisons with WALL-E are inevitable, and only a chump would prefer Space Chimps. If you don’t have a little one in tow there’s no reason to watch this, but speaking as a parent, sometimes not bad is good enough.
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