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'Bee Movie' Stings, 'Gangster' Packs Punch


A couple of big movies out this weekend. First, "American Gangster." It's Denzel Washington. In the true to life story, he's playing a '70s Harlem-based heroin dealer Frank Lucas. Russell Crowe plays the cop who tracks him. And then in a little indie film known as "Bee Movie."

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: So the problem is I watch a lot of NBC. I love "The Office" and "30 Rock."



BURBANK: And those NBC's night program has just turned into a running "Bee Movie" promo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: This is this animated film with Jerry Seinfeld, where he plays a kind of neurotic bee, which is a total departure for him because he's an erotic human.


BURBANK: Anyway, it's been almost 24 hours since we last had NPR movie guide Bob Mondello on the show, and we were really missing him.

MARTIN: Bring him back.

BURBANK: So here he is to tell us about this weekend's film action.

Hi, Bob.


BURBANK: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Well, it's a pleasure to be back. On the other hand, I wish I didn't have to talk about "Bee Movie." Let's start with….


BURBANK: Okay, so should we start with "American Gangster"?

MONDELLO: Yeah, absolutely.

BURBANK: Okay, let's start out with a little clip. This is Denzel Washington. He's sort of explaining his view on business and how there's an old way of doing things and he's sort of the nouveau version of it. Let's hear a clip.

(Soundbite of movie, "American Gangster")

Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor): (As Frank Lucas) He told me he was rich, but he wasn't white man rich. You see, he wasn't wealthy. He didn't own his own company. He thought he did, but he didn't. He just managed it. White man own it, so they own them.

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Frank Lucas) Nobody owns me though.

Unidentified Woman: Hey.

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Frank Lucas) How are you doing, baby?

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Frank Lucas) Because I own my own company. And my company sells the product. It's better than the competition - at a price that's lower than the competition.

BURBANK: So that's Denzel Washington. What do you think of his performance in this film?

MONDELLO: Oh, he's great. The product he's selling there is heroin, obviously, and this is the '70s, and he is kind of amazing. I mean, he's got this real smooth - you know, Denzel Washington is always sort of laid back or always feel that way to me, and then when he explodes - and he explodes on occasion in this picture - you're just like, whoa. It's very unnerving. He's really terrific.

And Russell Crowe, who I don't like very much, you know, as a - I mean - you just sort of expect him to explode or throw a telephone or something like that.

BURBANK: Right. Now, that's real life for him.

MONDELLO: Yes, exactly. And he's really good. I mean, what's interesting about the picture though is that they sort of play the opposite of what you think.

Denzel Washington is a gangster, but he's also a good family man. He takes care of his mother. He brings his wife for, you know, sets them up at a big house and everything. Whereas, Russell Crowe is sort of a deadbeat dad. He's in the middle of a messy divorce. He's not providing for his family. He's not being there for them. So that the expectations you have of good and bad are kind of crossed out.

BURBANK: Well, let's actually hear a little bit of Russell Crowe's performance. This is - as his character is laying out the case against Denzel Washington's character and the district attorney is hearing this evidence and clearly doesn't think that a black guy could sort of succeed…


BURBANK: …at a level above the mafia. Let's hear that tape.

(Soundbite of movie, "American Gangster")

Mr. RUSSELL CROWE (Actor): (As Detective Richie Roberts) My investigation indicates that Frank Lucas is above the mafia in the dope business. My investigations also indicate that Frank Lucas buys direct from a source in Southeast Asia. He cuts out the middlemen and uses U.S. military planes and personnel to transport pure number four heroin into the United States, and he's been doing so on a regular basis since 1969. I have cases against every member of Frank's organization.

Mr. ROGER BART (Actor): (As District Attorney) No black man has accomplished what the American mafia hasn't in a hundred years.

Mr. CROWE: (As Detective Richie Roberts) Hey, hey, hey.

MONDELLO: How dare you say a black man did something good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: All right. So that sounds very intense.

STEWART: How about Russell Crowe's accent on that. I loved it.

BURBANK: Is it a good movie?

MONDELLO: Oh yeah. It's really good. It - what it doesn't, you know, it's weird. I think the critical consensus on this one is it's a terrific movie except that it doesn't go that extra little bit that allows you to - I mean, I don't remember a moment in it that I think is like the classic moment where the picture sort of goes over the top and becomes "The Godfather" or "Scarface" or "Goodfellas" or something like that. It's - but it's really good. It's like - it knows how to stroke all the tropes of gangster films really well. It just doesn't add anything to them. But it's - yeah, it's a really strong picture.

BURBANK: It's like a really good - a really well-executed TV sitcom that does the things that most things do really well, but doesn't kind of go past that.

MONDELLO: I can accept that, yeah. It's - I mean, except that it's operating on a higher level than most TV sitcoms…

BURBANK: All right, okay. That was a bad.

MONDELLO: But yeah, no I…

BURBANK: So you're the movie critic and I'm the guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: I'll go with that, though. It's a - I mean, that makes sense. If it's - it is really good at what it does. It's directed by Ridley Scott who sometimes goes way over the top with things like "Gladiator," but most of the time, he's kind of really smart about filmmaking. And in this one, he's really smart.

BURBANK: All right. Well, let's move over to the thing you didn't…


BURBANK: …the thing you didn't want to talk about.


BURBANK: "Bee Movie."


BURBANK: Jerry Seinfeld.

MONDELLO: It's a - it drums on.


(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: I'm sorry I have to start. It's…

STEWART: I'm going to laugh every time you use the song by the way. I'm the easiest audience ever (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: Well, I mean, don't you want him to be kind of wonderful? Right? I mean, he's - to rise above the humdrums…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: But the buzz on this one has been really terrible. And the frustrating thing is that either you want to be dialed, and with this picture, it doesn't have very much that, you know, any kind of bewitching(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: And - I'm sorry I could do those…

BURBANK: Are you just - tell me you're not going to do this on your review on real NPR.

MONDELLO: I am doing a little of it, yeah.

BURBANK: Oh god. I want you to get it out of your system on this show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: No, but I like these. Either…

STEWART: I say, I'm with him. I think they're hilarious.

MONDELLO: Well, puns are really great and, you know, the kind of jerks that this movie trades in are appalling(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Oh that was - see that was actually pretty clever - apalling(ph). I can - I can have a begrudging respect for that. So what is it? Is it just that - is it just that the film is predictable, the jokes aren't that funny. What is it about?

MONDELLO: What's in doing (unintelligible) was eloquent.

STEWART: Okay. Even I now, Bob, you've lost your most loyal ally in this endeavor.

MONDELLO: No, okay. Here's the deal. I - basically, they've got Jerry Seinfeld being a bee, right?


MONDELLO: And he's an average bee. And he gets upset when he sees what humanity is doing with these products, right? We're selling honey. Well, - I'm sorry, are you upset about - I mean, we have a clip, do we not?

BURBANK: Yeah we do actually. Let's hear that.

MONDELLO: I kind of like that.

BURBANK: This is him talking Renee Zellweger…

MONDELLO: Who's human.

BURBANK: As human.

BURBANK: Yeah, here we go.

(Soundbite of movie, "Bee Movie")

Mr. JEERY SEINFELD (Actor): (As Barry Benson's voice) What in the name of mighty Hercules is this?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson's voice) How did these get here? Cute B, golden blossom. Ray Liotta, private select.

Ms. RENEE ZELLWEGER (Actress): (As Vanessa Bloome's voice) Isn't he an actor?

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson's voice) I never heard of him.

Why is this here?

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Vanessa Bloome's voice) For people, for eating.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson's voice) Why? You don't have enough food of your own.

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Vanessa Bloome's voice) Well, yes.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson's voice) How did you even get it?

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Vanessa Bloome's voice) We'll bees make it.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson's voice) I know who makes it. And it's hard to make it. There's (unintelligible) and coaling(ph), and stirring. You need a whole (unintelligible) thing.

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Vanessa Bloome's voice) It's organic.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson's voice) It's our-ganic.

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Vanessa Bloome's voice) This is honey berry.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson's voice) Just - what? Bees don't know about this. This is stealing. A lot of stealing.

BURBANK: It's good to see that Jerry Seinfeld's really changed his cadence and pattern.

MONDELLO: I was going to say his way of speaking has always been somewhat animated, right?


MONDELLO: So this sort of makes sense. But you hear that he's doing the pun thing too. It's our-ganic, right? That kind of stuff. And it's - I mean, it's mildly amusing. And he sue - he goes ahead and sues humanity for doing this. Then everybody stops. All the bees stopped working and then, you know, the whole world turns brown and no flowers bloomed and it's terrible.

And I, you know, I have the theory about this picture. Everybody is talking about how this is his own personal vision, right? And that this is not a picture made by a committee. Well, his vision is of him and his buddies stopping working and the whole world gets sad.

And then they come back to work and everybody is happy and there's flowers and they're laughing…

BURBANK: Foreshadowing a Seinfeld reunion?

MONDELLO: Doesn't it sound like it? And, I mean, you know, that's the most egocentric thing I've ever heard in my life. It's not that it's - you kind of wish that this had been done by committee and somebody had said, no, Jerry, this is not a great idea.

BURBANK: All right.

Well, Bob, listen, I guess it's, you know, positive on the "American Gangster" tip and not so much on the "Bee Movie" tip. We appreciate you coming on filling us in on all these things. Well, we'll see at the theaters this weekend, okay?

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

BURBANK: Thank you. Bob Mondello - NPR's movie guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.