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The Conspirator, Rio, Your Highness
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The color-drenched animated yarn Rio, which bursts onto the screen scene like a Starburst commercial writ large, contains an early sequence in which the film's caged animal protagonist inadvertently bounces out the back of a moving vehicle and finds himself in strange environs. This is similar to the opening of the recent Rango, which found its central critter likewise falling out of a car and thus suddenly becoming exposed to a life less ordinary. But the difference between the pictures soon becomes clear.

Extending an olive branch to adult viewers, Rango was crafty enough to include references to such decidedly grownup fare as Apocalypse Now and Chinatown. For its part, Rio is strictly for the kids, and anyone expecting this Brazilian-set film to contain any references to City of God (or, heck, even The Boys from Brazil) will be sorely disappointed.

As straight-ticket children's fare, Rio is better than many toon flicks aimed squarely at this undiscriminating audience (Gnomeo & Juliet, for example), with its visual splendor and Jesse Eisenberg's patented nerd shtick helping overcome deficiencies in the narrative and a slew of humdrum ancillary characters. Eisenberg provides the voice for Blu, a macaw raised from infancy by a Minnesota bookworm named Linda (Leslie Mann).

A bumbling scientist (Rodrigo Santoro) convinces Linda to bring Blu to Rio de Janeiro so he can mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) in an attempt to prevent the extinction of the species, but the feathered pair hardly prove to be "lovebirds" -- as they themselves later point out, they're more like "acquaintance birds."

A smuggler (voiced by Carlos Ponce but oddly looking like Justin Timberlake) steals the rare birds with the assistance of his two imbecilic minions and a Scar-like cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement), and it's up to the timid Blu and the feisty Jewel -- with a little help from their avian friends (as well as one drooling bulldog) -- to extract themselves from this dire predicament.

Except for its use in one stunning aerial sequence set in the skies around the Christ the Redeemer statue, the 3-D is (as is often the case) negligible and only in place to justify elevated ticket prices. Visually, the film commands attention on its own, not only in the flight sequences but also during the musical numbers. But the story is drab and uninvolving, and the big-name cast (Hathaway, Jamie Foxx,, George Lopez) is ill-equipped to bring the dull characters to life.

The exception is Eisenberg, who is accorded the script's few decent lines and draws some mild laughs from them. Of course, coming so soon after The Social Network, it's hard not to recall Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg; as continuing proof that Rio misses its mark at connecting with adults, there are no references to Blu as the creator of FaceBeak.



Boston Corbett, the soldier who fatally shot John Wilkes Booth after the latter assassinated Abraham Lincoln, had years earlier removed his own testicles (with scissors!) so he wouldn't succumb to the feminine wiles of prostitutes. Dr. Samuel Mudd, one of the men convicted as part of the conspiracy to kill the president, is believed by many to merely have been a victim of circumstance, unaware as he tended to Booth's broken leg that this man had just murdered the nation's leader.

Clearly, there are many fascinating stories surrounding the death of one of this country's most revered presidents, and The Conspirator relates one of them. But it's a doozy: the arrest and trial of Mary Surratt, the only woman charged with taking part in the plot to kill Lincoln.

The guilt or innocence of Surratt remains a mystery even to this day, although director Robert Redford's solid film leans strongly toward a "not guilty" verdict. Presented primarily as a principled widow and a mother fiercely protective of her son (who was involved with Booth, if arguably not with the murder scheme), Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) has the support of her idealistic lawyer (James McAvoy) but not many others -- certainly not prosecuting attorney Joseph Holt, played by Danny Huston, nor Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, portrayed by Kevin Kline as an oily cross between Donald Rumsfeld and Alexander Haig.

Surratt's fate -- freedom or the gallows? -- is hardly a secret, but since the studio has opted to build this up as a historical cliffhanger, I won't ruin the ending here. But The Conspirator hardly needs this manufactured suspense, as it does a compelling job of presenting a lesson not found in most school texts.



As screen couplings go, the less charitable might gaze upon the union of Danny McBride and Natalie Portman and be reminded of Princess Leia forced to sit half-naked and chained next to Jabba the Hutt. But this unlikely match is the least of the problems plaguing Your Highness.

God almighty, this is one awful movie, a real feat considering that even the most juvenile of comedies can score at least a couple of guffaws off a steady stream of pot and dick jokes. But this stinkbomb manages the unpardonable sin of being boring for long stretches of time as well as unfunny all the time.

As a dim prince, McBride's stoner act can't touch that of either Cheech or Chong; as his heroic brother, James Franco seems as out of it as he was hosting the Oscars; as a warrior woman, Portman somehow maintains her dignity while wasting her talents; and as a damsel in distress, Zooey Deschanel is unpardonably ill-utilized.

Meanwhile, a minotaur tries to engage in sodomy before getting his appendage lopped off, McBride and Franco are forced to give a hand job to a lecherous Yoda rip-off, and a traitor (Toby Jones) turns out to be as junk-free as a Ken doll. For comparable entertainment value, you might as well watch a Renaissance Festival employee take a leak behind the costume and pottery booths.