- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

It’s only May 18, but it’s looking like the summer of ‘07 is reinforcing the old saw that the third time is never the charm for movie sequels. First, “Spider-Man 3” confirmed what everyone suspected while watching the trailer — too many villains equals too few reasons to care about any of them.

Now, “Shrek the Third” lumbers along and disappoints just like the webslinger did.

The new “Shrek” throws the same pop culture punches as its predecessors, but they mostly miss their mark. While it’s a blast to see Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) back on-screen, the characters quickly lose our interest. Poor writing and zero motivation will do that.

Suffice to say the visuals still amaze, and a few gags smack us right between the eyes, but it isn’t enough to dispel the sense that the film exists to move product, not hearts.

The film opens with Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) bombing onstage at a dinner theater. He’s still haunted by being bested by Shrek in the first sequel, and the sequence reminds us how amusing these Shrek films can be when they alternately aim to make both adults and children giggle.

For Shrek, life is suddenly complicated despite his marital bliss with Fiona (Cameron Diaz). He’s filling in for the ailing Frog King Harold (John Cleese), and the ogre doesn’t like the niceties of royal living one bit. The gig becomes permanent when the king’s health takes a wrong turn, yielding a funny albeit strained death scene.

When Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” plays during the funeral, we can sense the film’s producers elbowing each other for scoring one with the parental units. Yes, the “Shrek” formula is that obvious, and it gets worse when Heart’s “Barracuda” — sung by Fergie — plays a good hour later.

The only way for Shrek to avoid becoming king is to find the nearest heir and convince him to take over. That would be Fiona’s half brother Artie (voiced by Justin Timberlake), an outcast teen who just wants to survive high school in a neighboring village.

Prince Charming seizes upon the looming change in command. He enlists some defeated fairy tale figures, like Captain Hook and Cyclops, to retake the land of Far Far Away from Shrek’s clutches.

The story behind “Shrek the Third” is but a thumbnail sketch, drawn hastily at the movie’s start but never adequately fleshed out. Mr. Timberlake is appealing as Artie, but we spend more time analyzing how the animators made the character resemble the pop crooner than anything else. He, like the rest of the assembled heroes, lacks focus.

Eric Idle’s work as a daffy magician is the only new character to leave a mark.

The vocal performances remain rock solid. Mr. Myers could read the phone book as Shrek and we’d chuckle.

We can’t help but smile when a quartet of princesses come to the rescue late in the movie, burning their bras in a display of girl power that will sail right over the kiddies’ heads. But such giddy treats are rare here — after nearly suffocating us in “Shrek 2.”

**1/2

TITLE: “Shrek the Third”

RATING: PG (Comic violence and some flatulence humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Chris Miller. Screenplay by Mr. Miller, Aron Warner, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman.

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

WEB SITE: www.shrek.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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