You know about Godwin’s Law? The adage that as an online debate goes on, the probability that one party will compare another to Adolf Hitler approaches 100%? I’d like to coin Baldwin’s Law. Baldwin’s Law states that, as an actor with a prominent character archetype ages, the probability that they’ll swallow their pride and accept a giant paycheck for an animated spoof of that archetype approaches 100%. Alec Baldwin falls victim to his eponymous law in (and as) the dismal The Boss Baby.
Baldwin plays a slick, smarmy business baby that arrives unexpectedly at the Templeton family’s home in a taxi and proceeds to channel the actor’s Glengarry Glen Ross corporate trainer and 30 Rock executive in a near-constant stream of film and managerial references. Of course Janice and Ted Templeton (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel) were expecting a new baby, but not like this. The other person not expecting this (at least not THAT way) is the Templeton’s seven-year-old son, Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi). Tim doesn’t want a baby brother. He’s happy being the sole object of his parents’ affection. Rather than establishing the relationship between parent and child, this is discussed at length in confusing and unnecessary voiceover by Tobey Maguire as Future Tim. That’s a different speed than Dreamworks is built to go.
Dreamworks is built on the adult wink. Relatively good voice acting (which hey, Baldwin and Bakshi provide) turned towards those buying the tickets rather than those meant to enjoy the movie. There’s simply less marketing potential in heartfelt animation. Rather, this film stitches together a crazily convoluted plot of kids’ movie cliches like it’s making a besuited Frankenstein’s monster. The monstrousness isn’t helped by the impossibly blurry 3-D that smears its simplistic animation with a greasy nauseousness. I’m sure it doesn’t normally look like that, but the dulled colors and muddy light in the 3-D version were almost as big a headache as the film’s writing.
In between a plethora of anus jokes (The Boss Baby has more on-screen butts than your average episode of Game of Thrones), the movie pitches you the ideas that babies are made in a factory in heaven, some for families and some for corporate use, and that there is an unending and vicious war between babies and puppies for the finite amount of love in the world. Boss Baby is sent undercover because the Templeton parents work for a dog company. Some of the absurdity could be funny if it was lingered upon and explored, but as soon as the film gets its needledrop joke in (so many renditions of “Cheek to Cheek” – remember what I said about butt jokes?), it stumbles along to a new crazy plot thread. If that sounds brisk, let me reassure you that the inevitable bond between Tim and his unnamed brother only known as Boss Baby develops, fractures, and rekindles to take down the main villain (the CEO of their parents’ company, Puppy Co.) as sluggishly as possible.
The film grows stale long before its confusing climax, enamored with its own clever casting. But, if ever you wanted a film featuring Alec Baldwin’s husky gravel vamping “goo goo ga ga,” this is the film for you. His punchable protagonist never grows out of his insufferability and the film’s logical or emotional development never escapes its detached mood. When the time comes for Boss Baby and Tim to work together, they do it. When the time comes for them to like each other, well, that happens too. We’re not convinced that this wasn’t written up in a contract somewhere between the two, but the film’s simply not that clever or self-aware.
The overfull inbox of business jokes falls spectacularly flat when viewed in our current national climate, and seem completely insane in a movie for children. The only joke that got laughs from the kids in my audience was one about how memos are boring and nonsensical. And the film is based on a picture book whose problems are the same. Booklist clearly understands that the match with Dreamworks was one made in baby-manufacturing heaven when stating in its review that Marla Frazee’s book feels “targeted more toward weary parents than a picture-book audience.” Sorry kids, but it doesn’t seem like the children’s book or the children’s movie is truly for you. Yet even for the parents it’s intended for, The Boss Baby is a tone deaf comedy that runs its single joke into the ground so hard it ends up burying its head in the dirt.
Director: Tom McGrath
Writer: Michael McCullers
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Miles Christopher Bakshi, Lisa Kudrow, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Tobey Maguire
Release Date: March 31, 2017