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Homer's Odyssey 

Plus, let the Sunshine in

The problem with a good comedy — and make no mistake, The Simpsons Movie is a very good comedy -- is that it's hard for even the tightlipped among us not to want to rush out and share many of the best gags with our friends. Of course, that would ruin the surprise for everyone else planning to catch said film, so out of loyalty and respect, it's best to keep one's mouth shut.

But boy, are there some real winners in this animated feature, ones that will be appreciated by folks who can't even distinguish a Marge from a Maggie, or a Flanders from a Smithers, or an Itchy from a Scratchy. Take, for instance, a brilliant bit -- choreographed with all the precision of a Gene Kelly musical -- that finds Bart skateboarding naked through the streets of Springfield. Or a verbal aside involving a homemade -- make that Homer-made -- silo used for storing pig excrement. Or a Titanic parody involving a hot band. Or a marvelous jab at the inefficiency of this nation's so-called Homeland Security measures. Or...

You get the picture. Crafting a motion picture from a current television series that's been around for nearly two decades is a dicey proposition (as has been pointed out, why pay for something you can get for free at home?), but The Simpsons Movie fills the larger dimensions of the theater screen quite nicely. Running the length of four combined episodes, this flick takes Homer's weekly display of idiocy to a new level, as his bumbling disrespect for the environment leads to Springfield being blocked off from the rest of the world by a giant dome, with the town's destruction the ultimate goal of the overzealous head of the Environmental Protection Agency (voiced by Albert Brooks, billed in the credits as "A. Brooks"). Knowing that Homer is the culprit, the town's residents soon come a-calling with torches in hand and nooses hanging from nearby trees (baby Maggie's rope has a little pacifier attached).

But if there's one area in which Hollywood remains blissfully, even blessedly, optimistic, it's in the strength of the family unit, and as long as Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie stick together, they can lick any and all odds. Yet in this outing, even that tried and true formula is put to the test, as Homer's selfishness and cluelessness strains even the patience of Marge, perhaps the most devoted wife of a pigheaded TV character since Edith Bunker used to stand up for Archie back in the 1970s.

Marge's romantic crisis manages to be touching, as does do-gooder Lisa's love for the progressive new kid on the block. But The Simpsons Movie is mainly about jokes -- old jokes, new jokes, topical jokes, risqué jokes, sight gags, perhaps even a non sequitor or two. So, can I ruin just one or two for you? Please?

THE AD FOR Sunshine, the latest from the genre-hopping Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Millions), claims that it's a "Must-See Theatre-Going Event." Apparently, that's to distinguish it from another sci-fi "event," the 1997 yarn Event Horizon.

That's hardly enough of a distinction, since Sunshine bares some narrative similarities to that costly dud. But why stop there? Boyle and his frequent scripter, Alex Garland, certainly didn't, as the film also brings to mind (among others) 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Solaris, Silent Running and even TV's Space: 1999. Yet the sci-fi flick has always had a habit of feeding upon its past with more extravagant gestures than other genres, and it's hardly a detriment when the purloined pieces fit together in such a manner as to create a work that feels original.

Set 50 years in the future, Sunshine deals with our planet as it's on the verge of becoming a lifeless orb. The sun is dying, and unless something can be done to bring it back to its former, fiery state, then humankind is doomed. As a last ditch effort, eight men and women board the spaceship Icarus II and head upward, carrying a bomb that, once dropped into the heart of the sun, should theoretically revive it. But as they travel to complete their mission, they receive a distress signal from Icarus I, which had disappeared seven years earlier while trying to accomplish a similar mission. The octet must decide: Should they proceed directly with their assignment, or should they first alter their course to check on the other vessel?

As with last year's The Fountain, the likewise leisurely paced Sunshine employs dazzling visual effects in the service of an ambitious and heady undertaking whose philosophical reach attempts to exceed its narrative grasp. That Boyle and Garland don't completely follow through on presenting a spaced out odyssey is evidenced by the introduction of an additional character during the third act (no fair revealing who, what or why). This decision to take the story out of the realm of the ethereal and into the physical doesn't damage this captivating film, but it does prevent it from achieving a cinematic state of grace.

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