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Directed by Brian Levant Screenplay by Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. Starring Mark Addy, Stephen Baldwin, Kristen Johnston, Jane Krakowski, Alan Cumming, Joan Collins Classification: F Rating: *½

Listening to director Brian Levant talk about how he had "more freedom to break out of the box and do something fresh" with this prequel to his 1994 hit The Flintstones, you'd think he was Francis Coppola describing the making of The Godfather, Part 2.

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas might be marginally better than its predecessor, but it still ends up a clunky roller-coaster ride that manufactures every tired comedic cliché that even television sitcoms have grown weary of recycling. And when it isn't cannibalizing itself, the film lifts ideas and scenes from What Planet Are You From?, Casino, Trading Places, Honeymoon in Vegas and even Play it Again, Sam. Like Elvis (whose tacky film the title also pilfers from), you just may want to leave the building.

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The Flintstones, of course, was the animated prime-time television comedy, aired during the early 1960, about a prehistoric suburban family living in Bedrock. (It was the longest-running cartoon series, too, until The Simpsons came along.) Fred Flintstone was a loud, blue-collar quarry worker, whose best friend was the sweet but dim-witted Barney Rubble. Fred's prudent wife Wilma was there to rein him in, and Barney's quaint spouse Betty was his kindred spirit.

The first live-action movie version of The Flintstones (1994), which featured John Goodman as Fred, Rick Moranis as Barney, Elizabeth Perkins as Wilma, and Rosie O'Donnell as Betty, was an uninspired, flat comedy. Even so, the movie made a bundle at the box office.

In The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, the story takes us back to the time before the couples met and how they eventually paired off. Fred (Mark Addy) and Barney (Stephen Baldwin) are bachelor roommates looking for romance. Wilma (Kristen Johnston) is a debutante railing against her snobbish mother (an overripe Joan Collins). And Betty (Jane Krakowski) is a roller-skating waitress at a burger joint. Meanwhile, the planet Zetox -- whose inhabitants speak as if they hail from a training outpost for the BBC -- has sent a representative, the Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming), to study the mating rituals of humans. With his help (and despite his hindrance), the couples eventually meet. While having a romantic weekend in Rock Vegas, Wilma's old boyfriend, the wealthy stud Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson), plots to win her back.

The film initially has the makings of a dopey but genial romantic comedy. And Levant is far more relaxed in the early scenes, especially during the courtship, than he was in the first movie. But once we get to Vegas, it gets as loud and stupid as The Flintstones was.

Until Vegas, the actors make their roles much more vivid than the ones in the first film. Mark Addy, who played the self-conscious steelworker Dave in The Full Monty, plays Fred by smoothly invoking Jackie Gleason from The Honeymooners. When he starts pounding on a guy who he thinks is stealing his car, the guy remarks, 'I'm the valet.' Fred retorts, 'I don't care if you're going to the opera.' Stephen Baldwin also does an uncanny job of embodying Barney Rubble (even though he's given the haircut of Shemp from the Three Stooges). Kristen Johnston (of 3rd Rock From the Sun) lacks the assurance that Elizabeth Perkins had as Wilma. But Jane Krakowski, from Ally McBeal, is perfectly radiant as Betty.

The biggest problem with both Flintstones movies is having human beings playing cartoon characters. Part of what we enjoy most about animation is the playful and satiric way it can exaggerate human behaviour. When the actors try to imitate those cartoon gestures, the joke becomes hopelessly lost. The spirit of fun is lost in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas because it's drowning in its desire to create nostalgia. It goes from yabba dabba doo to yabba dabba dumb.

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