Dir: Joe Dante. US. 2003. 90mins.

The edgy humour of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck et al takes a back seat to frantic and not terribly funny action-comedy in this Warner family offering (set for a Nov 14 US release) that puts the studio's Looney Tunes animated stars together with live-action characters and settings. Five years ago Warner scored a hit (with $90m from the US and $159m from international) when it teamed its cartoon icons with basketball superstar Michael Jordan in Space Jam. This new outing will struggle to match those totals, though with Mummy star Brendan Fraser heading the human cast it could still have some international appeal, particularly in territories where it opens in the run up to Christmas. And Warner will undoubtedly reap rewards from video and other ancillary markets.

In keeping with Looney Tunes tradition (the banner originated in the 1940s with the classic shorts directed by Friz Feleng, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and others), the script, by former Simpsons writer Larry Doyle, is heavy on self-referential humour. The story opens on the Warner Bros lot, where Daffy Duck, protesting his role as second fiddle to star contract player Bugs Bunny, is fired by hard nosed studio exec Kate (Elfman, from sitcom Dharma And Greg). Daffy allies himself with security guard and aspiring stuntman DJ (Fraser) and tags along as DJ heads for Las Vegas at the behest of his movie star/international spy Dad (former James Bond Dalton). When she is fired herself for sacking Bugs' sidekick, Kate follows in the hope of persuading Daffy to come back to work at the studio.

Clever (if sometimes self-serving) references to a slew of other movies - from Warner's upcoming Scooby-Doo and Batman sequels to arch rival Disney's latest animated smash - make for some amusing early scenes. And a funny play on the practice of product placement fits right in with the original Looney Tunes spirit.

Before long, however, the film turns its attention to a convoluted and increasingly silly spy-spoof plot that takes DJ, Kate, Daffy and Bugs from Vegas to Paris to Africa in pursuit of a diamond coveted by the villainous chairman of the Acme Corporation (played by a heavily disguised and way over the top Martin). The plot provides opportunities for brief appearances by a host of other Looney Tunes characters - among them Yosemite Sam, Wile E Coyote, Road Runner, Tweety Bird and Sylvester - and for turns by other human performers, including Cusack and Locklear. It also allows director Joe Dante (whose previous film was the computer animated/live-action Small Soldiers) to stage live-action versions of the sort of slapstick gags that are an important part of the Looney Tunes formula.

But the plot leaves very little room for the Looney Tunes characters to interact and generate the kind of comedy that they've always done best - the comedy of human foibles like greed, envy and hubris.

The film's animation work successfully recreates the look of the classic characters but rarely rises to the imaginative levels of the original cartoons. The exception is a nicely surreal sequence in which Bugs, Daffy and Elmer Fudd chase each other through a series of famous paintings in the Louvre, with the animation taking on the style of each artist in turn.

The compositing of the animated and live-action material also leaves something to be desired. Even with Oscar winner (for Who Framed Roger Rabbit') Dean Cundey as director of photography the combination of the animated characters' two-dimensional look with the three-dimensional settings isn't always entirely convincing.

Prod cos: Warner Bros Pictures, Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures, Goldmann Pictures
US/int'l dist:
Warner Bros
Paula Weinstein, Bernie Goldmann
Exec prods:
Chris deFaria, Larry Doyle
Larry Doyle
Dean Cundey
Prod des:
Bill Brzeski
Marshall Harvey, Rick W Finney
Jerry Goldsmith
Main cast:
Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Timothy Dalton, Heather Locklear, Joan Cusack