Re-imagining the late '60s children's show The Banana Splits as an R-rated horror flick is a stroke of genius. That's why it's disappointing that The Banana Splits Movie doesn't do enough with the concept. For those of us who are a certain age, the show was can't-miss television as kids. Although the Splits acted silly, there was something about those costumes that felt slightly sinister. I can remember being as creeped out by the characters as I was drawn to them. This new film is on the right track in playing up their inherent freakiness. It just holds back a little too much.
Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is a young boy who loves The Banana Splits. For his birthday, his mother Beth (Dani Kind) gets him tickets to a taping, much to the dismay of her loutish boyfriend Mitch (Steve Lund). Together with brother Austin (Romeo Carere), they head out to the show, where they meet other fans, including a stage father trying to get his daughter into show business and a young couple in love.
The twist here is that Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky are not actors wearing costumes, they're animatronic. And when they find out that the show is about to be cancelled, they turn murderous.
The best scenes in The Banana Splits Movie are the ones in which the characters wreak bloody havoc. Watching them kill a guy with a lollipop or run people down with the Banana Buggy is a lot of self-aware fun. Those bits strike the right balance of being goofy and gory. Director Danishka Esterhazy is clearly having a great time envisioning these kiddie show stars as killers, a quality that gives the picture some spark. Anyone watching the movie is probably coming for this material, which does a nice job tapping into the fact that the Splits' appearance can be unnerving.
Everything else is the problem. Whenever the film focuses on Austin's attempts to woo a network page, or Harley's dislike of Mitch, or anything not involving the Banana Splits, it screeches to a halt. Clunky dialogue and predictable, half-baked character arcs abound. The screenplay by Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas needed to either have more horror moments or less personal drama. We're here for the crazy. Why not give us as much as possible?
When it's doing what it's supposed to do, The Banana Splits Movie has some definite novelty value. Unfortunately, that's only about 50% of the time, tops. Should you see the film? If the premise intrigues you, you'll probably be glad you did, even if it never hits the ridiculous heights it should. Hard to deny, though, that some of the potential has been needlessly squandered.
Blu-ray Features: The Banana Splits Movie will be released on DVD and Blu-ray combo pack August 27. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided a complimentary copy for review purposes.
Three special features are found on the Blu-ray. “Banana Splits: Behind the Horror” is a making-of segment that has key creative people (both in front of and behind the camera) discussing the genesis of the project, the history of the characters, and the approach to making a horror movie based on them. It's a fun piece that indicates everyone was trying to produce something cool and special. “Terror on Set” is similarly entertaining, as it focuses on the creation of the scenes in which the Splits kill. A lot of care went into these sequences, which are easily the best part of the picture.
Finally, there's “Breaking News! The Banana Splits Massacre,” a short, fake cable news report recounting the events we've already seen in the film itself.
out of four
The Banana Splits Movie is rated R for horror violence and gore. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.