Frylock, Meatwad, and Master Shake — the Three Stooges inhabiting Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters — will survive should you choose to avoid their movie. Truth be told, you’ve probably never heard of them anyway, unless you’re a regular viewer of the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block or vaguely recall hearing the name of the film when it surfaced during a Boston terror scare earlier this year, when authorities mistook illuminated viral marketing signs for terrorists’ explosive devices. For the stunt, you may recall, Turner Broadcasting agreed to fork over close to $2 million, which has to be more than it cost to make Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Thing looks like it was made on your mom’s TRS-80. In 1996.
Truth be told, the studios got their money’s worth for all the publicity they received. Or perhaps that was the real plan — to get mistaken for terrorists and spread all over the 24-hour news cycle, where the name of the film was repeatedly uttered for days on end. Who would put it past Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis, the parents of Frylock, Meatwad, and Master Shake, who have spent the past seven years getting paid to create late-night stoner programming for parents too tired to switch off the Cartoon Network after the kiddies finish Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends? (To be fair, I have friends and colleagues who dig ATHF and aren’t parents or stoners. Yeah, seems weird to me too.) The whole thing’s felt like a prolonged prank, so why stop now?
The pair, former Space Ghost Coast to Coast writers, have filled years of programming and sold millions of DVD boxed sets with 11-minute segments of chaos, nonsense, and noise signifying nothing but the sound of burbling bongs and ka-chinging cash registers. Maiellaro and Willis are the Tarantino and Rodriguez of low-budget animation, the Parker and Stone of stoners (South Park‘s for wine-drinkers, please) — horror-movie buffs and sci-fi fanatics who gorge on pop culture’s high-fat diet and regurgitate that shit into something approaching … uh … art? Close enough.
Where most of the other Adult Swim shows are nothing but snarked-up jalopies salvaged from the Hanna-Barbera junkyard, ATHF exists in its own little world — a messy, broken-down place populated by mad scientists, horny robots, pissed-off videogame characters, ‘roided-up neighbors, and an alien melon. Which is to say nothing of the talking fast-food items living as roomies: Frylock (voiced by Carey Means), the blaxploitation box of fries who serves as the trio’s de facto leader; Master Shake (Dana Snyder), who is indeed no smarter than your average dairy product; and Meatwad (Willis), who, with his squeaky voice and ability to take the shape of myriad meat products, might reasonably be described as “cute” were he not also covered in stray hairs.
The three really are little more than standard sitcom characters — men, or whatever, behaving badly. They might as well be Jerry, Elaine, and George yadda-yadda-yadda-ing about nada. Only difference is, here you have a Terminator-like exercise machine sent from the future (or past, it’s so hard to tell) to destroy the planet; an origin story involving the Sphinx, Abraham Lincoln, and the FBI; and the revelation that one of the main characters is another one’s father and/or mother.
But that’s all so beside the point. Narrative is a sketchy proposition in a movie that proudly bills itself in trailers as “an animated epic featuring three all-new backgrounds,” and then proceeds to really offer nothing more than that. The movie’s there for 87 minutes, it makes you giggle every now and again, and then it vanishes like everything else on TV.
Truth be told, the funniest moment comes before the film officially starts, during a pre-opening-credits intro that parodies those old drive-in theater concession stand promos. It’s standard stuff by now — any 3-year-old can probably sing along to “Let’s all go to the lobby …”— but Maiellaro and Willis up the volume. The retro hot dog, soda, and popcorn square off against their heavy-metal counterparts who, in short, threaten the audience against talking during the movie and bootlegging it afterward, lest they and Time Warner rip your fucking head off, more or less. The thing goes on forever, but how else do you expect 11 minutes’ worth of ideas to fill 87 minutes’ worth of screen time? By. Stretching. Everything. Out.