There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Pretty soon, we may no longer need the toned bodies and chiseled good looks of Hollywood’s A-listers, as films like Gil Kenan’s Monster House continue to squeeze more moviegoing fun out of actors’ disembodied voices than out of their flesh-and-blood performances. House features amiable everykid DJ (Mitchel Musso), who lives across the street from a spooky house occupied by Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), the übercrotchety neighborhood bully. But when DJ’s parents leave him alone with a self-absorbed teen baby sitter (a sarcastic Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Mr. N kicks the bucket, the house itself takes up the evil slack, gobbling up toys, pets, and even humans on its own accord. So, enlisting the help of pudgy Chowder (Sam Lerner) and preppy Jenny (Spencer Locke), DJ sets out to make things right. Sounds perfectly paint-by-numbers, but first-time director Gil Kenan surprises with both a visual and a narrative sophistication that transcend the kid-flick vibe, rarely dumbing things down. These protagonists are not the stock precocious tots of other mainstream fare; they’re self-aware and smarter than the adults around them as they deal with some very grown-up situations. In fact, the film is rated PG for a good reason, as many of the scares will be too intense for the littlest rugrats. Monster House also has a unique look, combining slightly cartoonish character designs with realistic facial expressions and detailed textures that put those creepy Polar Express kids to shame. And where many CG movies suffer either from a too-static camera or look-what-I-can-do acrobatics, Monster House pans and zooms, tracks and dollies, even feigning a shaky, hand-held effect at times, adding a touch of cinematic naturalism to its wholly digital world. But in a disappointingly unnatural, un-PC touch, there is only one non-Caucasian among the dozen main characters, as if U.S. suburbs had never seen integration. (C’mon, the ’burbs weren’t even all-white in Archie Bunker’s day.) Making the situation worse is Nick Cannon’s portrayal of fraidy-cat African-American cop Lister, which single-handedly sets back the cause of black supporting actors 50 years by channelling every scared butler from those old Abbott & Costello pictures. It’s embarrassing to watch, and the film ironically provides relief when Lister is eaten by the possessed abode of the title. But all stepping and fetching aside, Monster House is scary fun for almost the whole family, and it’s untethered by the self-satisfied smirking of pretty stars. Hmm, maybe Louie Anderson is due for a comeback.—Jason Powell