The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Construction worker and caveman Fred Flintstone feels something is missing in his otherwise perfect prehistoric life. It’s not a friend, as he has faithful dope Barney as a constant companion; it’s not advice, as Fred has a sniffy alien called the Great Gazoo to help him; but it may be the love of a good woman. Can Gazoo, on a mission to observe human mating habits, steer both Fred and Barney into the arms of beautiful women who will put up with the boys’ primitive ways?

While it gets occasional runs on the BBC, the cartoon series of The Flintstones never really made much of an impact here (to anyone born after 1970, anyway), Britain unaccustomed to the Honeymooners sitcom on which it was based. Nonetheless, the prehistoric families living quasi-1950s lives with the mod-cons replaced by domestic dinosaurs et al had enough worldwide recognition to make Brian Levant’s 1994 film The Flintstones a financial if not a critical success, with John Goodman and Rick Moranis taking on roles of Fred and Barney respectively, Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O’Donnell playing their wives and featuring a cameo from Elizabeth Taylor as Fred’s snobbish mother-in-law, Pearl Slaghoople. Given the positive box office, it was little surprise that a second film emerged, again directed by Levant. And whilst it seems bizarre that Viva Rock Vegas is a prequel, taking place before either the Flintstones or Rubbles get together and featuring an entirely different cast to the first film, I suspect the reluctance of some or all of the original cast to return forced the studio’s hand.

Viva Rock Vegas begins with the Universal logo replaced by a ‘Univershell’ one (the first of hundreds of ghastly puns) before introducing us to the Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming), the hapless alien chucked off his spaceship to observe courtship and mating rituals. Gazoo was, from what I can gather, a character introduced late to the cartoon Flintstones who did nothing to stop its slide into cancellation, so why it was thought he would liven up the film is anyone’s guess; but I digress. Gazoo runs into a lovelorn Fred (Mark Addy) and Barney (Stephen Baldwin), and insults and nudges them into asking women out.

Meanwhile, Wilma Slaghoople (Kristen Johnston) leaves behind her bourgeois life and imminent betrothal to casino owner Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson) to work in a burger bar with Betty O’Shale (Jane Krakowski), much to the disapproval of mother Pearl (Joan Collins), although her father Harvey Korman (the original Great Gazoo, fact fans) is too batty to care. As you might suppose, the quartet find themselves on a double date where Betty and Barney discover they have equally irritating laughs, leaving Fred to teach Wilma the joys of bowling (complete with twangy sound effects). Love blossoms but the interference of Pearl, the underhand tactics of Chip – in debt and desperate need of Slaghoople money – and the intervention of a famous singer called Mick Jagged (Cumming again) ensure that the road to happiness is a rocky one (sorry).

Although the first Flintstones was decidedly average, it could at least boast some stars in outrageous garb delivering naff lines, and the novelty of seeing primitive equipment brought to life. Viva Rock Vegas has none of these advantages. The script is just as poor as the first film, but the actors required to speak them seem to have been chosen on the basis that they were the first ones to pick up the phone that day.

Addy sort of looks alright but his impersonation of Fred is horrible (cf. The Time Machine), whilst Baldwin looks the part but has all the comic presence of smallpox – ditto with the square-jawed Thomas Gibson. Jane Krakowski is cute as Betty, but Johnston doesn’t seem comfortable with being the main focus of the film; as she is the main focus of the film, this is a problem.

There are also problems with the prop jokes: a dinosaur roller coaster at the carnival is fair enough, but why is there a woman with a camcorder? Even though it’s made out of rock, there’s no suggestion of how it works and misses the point of the premise entirely. The same goes for the casino, where a bird-operated remote control (fair enough…) switches off CCTV screens (Eh?!?).

And Dino, the pet Fred wins for Wilma at the carnival, is an annoying part-puppet-part-CGI creation designed to generate laughs from children, none of whom will have a clue what the Flintstones are about. Oh, and the Great Gazoo effects are poorly-executed too: Cumming, a talented comic actor, can’t make him any fun, even though he has a laugh with his very broad Mick Jagger impersonation.

‘Jagged’ and Ann-Margret both provide lively renditions of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ reworked to fit the film and these are entertaining, as are a few jokes that escape from the script almost by accident (the guy who constantly threatens to kill all the dinosaurs, for example); but the moments that shine mainly do so because of the acute dullness of every aspect of the rest of the film, a procession of weak performances holding feeble props, powering even feebler puns. I can only hope that talk of a live-action Jetsons movie, originally mooted in 2007 but last slated to appear in 2012, either never turns up, or has some far better ideas than Viva Rock Vegas when it does.

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