Thank god for Mendes

Michael Phillips | Boulder Weekly

Midway through one in a manic string of chase sequences in the animated Rio, the uptight macaw voiced by Jesse Eisenberg says, “I would love to go five minutes without almost getting killed.” This is the movie’s strategy: near-perpetual peril, dialogue that’s almost funny and an extremely bright color palette, plus the musical supervision of the great Sergio Mendes, whose LPs I still have in the house somewhere, my tastes not having changed much since 1966.

Re-hearing the best of the Mendes-sanctioned soundtrack tunes, new and old, is a happier prospect than the movie itself. Rio has been playing in theaters overseas and in Latin America and South America for a couple of weeks now, and as its pre-U.S. box office tally flies toward $75 million, it seems entirely possible we’ll be seeing Rio 2: Blame It on the Bossa Nova by early 2013. The director, Carlos Saldanha, collaborated on the Ice Age trilogy. What he has developed here has tons of atmosphere and, less helpfully, tons of overplotted chaos disguised as a story.

Opening number: We’re in the Brazilian jungle, the various birds and creatures are singing, dancing, getting us in the mood for — the abrupt arrival of smugglers. Shrieks, cries, running, scrambling and suddenly everybody’s in cages, including little Blu, the macaw. Off to Moose Lake, Minn., he goes, where he’s adopted by a nice single gal (voiced by Leslie Mann) who runs an independent bookstore (good thing it wasn’t a Borders). Linda and Blu are visited one snowy day by a Rio scientist (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro). Blu, you see, is one of two remaining macaws in his subspecies. The other (Anne Hathaway, doing what she can with lamely sarcastic rejoinders such as “Ya think?”) needs a mate to propagate. So Blu and his human, Linda, do like Fred and Ginger and fly down to Rio, Rio by the sea-o, where they run afoul of some City of God-inspired thieves and their murderous cockatoo henchman (Jemaine Clement) and spend most of the picture searching for each other.

Too many supporting characters of too little comic distinction compete for our attention in Rio, including a pack of martial-arts-trained marmosets designed to give the penguins of Madagascar some spin-off competition. The movie isn’t dull, exactly; the problem lies in the other, antsy direction. Culminating in a melee that takes place during the annual celebration of Carnaval, the movie makes it difficult to enjoy its party vibe. Serial kidnappings have a way of harshing the tropical mellow. If it weren’t for a few of Eisenberg’s drier line readings, a couple of the 3-D-friendly flying sequences and the new version of “Mas Que Nada” on the soundtrack … well, let’s just say I’m grateful for those elements.

—MCT, Tribune Media Service