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July 31, 2014

Movie review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' has the right mix of special effects, acting talent

A jaunty space adventure, "Guardians of the Galaxy" pokes fun at the sci-fi genre in the confines of a traditional saving-the- universe framework.

With unconventional St. Louisan James Gunn directing and co-writing, his trademark tongue-in-cheek dialogue and go-for-broke style are apparent from the moment we arrive on an abandoned planet.

Robust action scenes enhanced by whiz-bang visual effects and stunning 3-D live up to the hype and the Marvel name. The eye candy is as appealing as the parody is engaging.

Based on a wacky comic book series, the story focuses on a central group of five ragtag "good guys" -- Ravager Peter Quill, a half-human, half-alien who was abducted from Earth as a young child 26 years earlier; green machine Gamora, a feisty fighting female creation; tech brainiac Rocket Raccoon, a rootin-tootin' scoundrel; Drax the Destroyer, a hulking menace driven by revenge; and Groot, a twisty tree creature humanoid whose unorthodox skills help save the day.

You wouldn't expect this Fab Five to escape from doom, let alone lead the charge, but that's what makes this film a fun summer excursion.

In this first installment of a forthcoming franchise, we move to Zander, a fancy metropolitan planet, where Peter (Chris Pratt) attempts to unload an unusual orb he stole while scavenging Morag.

That prompts the wrath of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a snarling evil ruler whose vendettas run deep. Michael Rooker, who is in every Gunn movie, plays the blue Yondu, who also turns on Peter because of a misunderstanding.

Eventual skirmishes, along with requisite origins exposition, lead us to Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (pro wrestler David Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper).

At first they are adversaries. But Peter is a wanted man, and can't help out righteous leader Nova Prime (Glenn Close) -- hairstyle on loan from "The Hunger Games" -- or her sidekick Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly) without enlisting this motley crew.

The manhunt intensifies, as do the battles and quips. After this dilemma is resolved, with snappy repartee and resourcefulness by our daffy team, stay tuned for next chapter...

Performances

You gotta love a talking raccoon, right? The sassy smart-aleck critter is expressively voiced by Cooper, and he steals the movie.

We have the go-to goofball Pratt announcing his major motion picture arrival. Earning his comic cred on "Parks and Recreation," and gaining notice in supporting roles in "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Moneyball," Pratt firmly establishes himself as a worthy leading man as Peter, aka Star Lord.

His character's make-up is a refreshing mix of Harrison Ford's swaggering Han Solo of "Star Wars," Chris Pine's cocky James T. Kirk in the "Star Wars" reboot and Tim Allen's reluctant savior in "Galaxy Quest,"

Pratt adds his offbeat charm to his bulked-up physique, and he is in full control, delivering the snarky and the serious lines with equal authority.

Bautista is also impressive as the imprinted hulkster, and everyone else is all in for a wild ride.

What Works

Two words: Mix Tape. A running gag of groovy '70s pop hits adds a lively spark to the movie. Be prepared for such earworms as Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love" and Blue Suede's "Hooked on a Feeling" (ooga chaka).

The large cosmic scope doesn't get in the way of a well-done movie. The cast isn't swallowed by the effects.

Clever writing is scarce in big blockbusters, and Gunn, along with co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman, plumped the movie up with playfulness and a self-aware tone.

I enjoy a tentpole movie that doesn't take itself so seriously.

There are nifty gizmos on display, showing off shiny new hardware inventions in the super-action movie prop catalog -- surely coming soon to a toy store near you.

What Doesn't Work

If you are coming in brand-new to this series, you might need a scorecard to get your bearings regarding characters.

However, the major player lineup is not too deep, and when the interaction fires up, you know what's happening.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" will leave you smiling and wanting more from these off-the-wall characters.

3 1/2 stars out of 4

Director: James Gunn

Starring:Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, David Bautista, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Michael Rooker, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Benecio del Toro, voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

Length: 2:01

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