Rated PG - Running Time: 1:28 - Released 4/28/00

Sequels (and, of course, prequels), willingly or not, draw inevitable comparisons with their predecessors. The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas, the latest installment in the saga of everyone's favorite modern stone-age family, is thusly forced to stand up against its 1994 ancestor The Flintstones. If one takes away the factor that The Flintstones was first, and that it had much more star power, Viva Rock Vegas really doesn't do too badly. Part of this is due to the fact that both films had the same director (Brian Levant), which lends consistency to the product, and many of the same producers (William Hanna, Joseph Barbera, Steven Spielberg, et al.), which ensures that the same quality will be afforded. Still, while the plot of The Flintstones was something that could have been taken from any one of the vintage TV cartoon's chiseled stone scripts, the story of Viva Rock Vegas, penned by Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan and Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr., is more of a leap into terra incognita. How Fred and Barney met and married Wilma and Betty may have been covered as a flashback in an episode of the show, but it certainly wasn't the regular subject matter.

Fred and Barney (Mark Addy and Stephen Baldwin), two pals who have just been hired at the Bedrock stone quarry, are wistfully discussing their desire for female companionship when they meet a tiny, green man named The Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming). Openly referring to them as "dumb-dumbs," Gazoo informs them he is an emotionless extra-terrestrial from another planet who has been sent to prehistoric Earth to study the locals' mating habits. Soon Fred and Barney are on a double date with newfound friends Wilma and Betty (Kristen Johnston, Jane Krakowski), and Gazoo seems poised to achieve his goal. A trip to an amusement park results in romance all around, but there is a complication: Wilma is on the run from her wealthy, domineering mother (Joan Collins), who wants her to marry the evil and wealthy Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson). In an underhanded bid to win her over, Chip invites the four to the grand opening of his new gambling casino in Rock Vegas. As Fred's compulsive gambling and Barney's supposed infidelity gets them both in the doghouse with the girls, Chip prepares to move in for the kill.

For the purpose of this foray into the pre-history of the prehistoric (and for other reasons, too, I'm sure), the leading four roles have been recast with actors who appear younger, but who lack the drawing power of the originals. In terms of the actors' interpretations of their characters, there are some interesting comparisons. As Fred, Addy (The Full Monty) seems to be concentrating more on an impersonation of Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden (on which Fred Flintstone was originally based), while John Goodman's 1994 portrayal was more like the cartoon Fred. Although Johnston (Third Rock From The Sun) makes a fetching and more human Wilma, she is obviously not trying to duplicate Elizabeth Perkins's spot-on vocal adaptation. Conversely, while Rick Moranis's Barney was visually closer but vocally more distant from the cartoon version, Baldwin's interpretation sounds like the Barney we know and love, but looks radically different with long, straight hair. And Krakowski (Ally McBeal), who has traded in her flowing blonde perm for the short, pert, jet-black do that Betty is known for, is much slimmer and sexier than Rosie O'Donnell, who made Betty more of a matronly type. But this is completely in line with being young and single weren't we all that way once?

Among the surprising differences in style is the fact that in the 1994 film, Barney was portrayed as much smarter than Fred, while here the two seem to have switched IQs; and Wilma's family fortune, the central driving force behind this film's plot, was never really hinted at in The Flintsones, even though the actress playing her mother (Elizabeth Taylor) surely had a higher price tag than Collins. Of course, the film is visually fun and fantastic, with numerous funny animal-appliances, lots of wild color, and a dynamite version of the song "Viva Rock Vegas," sung by none other than Ann-Margaret, the vixen from the similarly named 1964 Elvis movie. The Viva Rock Vegas writing team has taken some liberties with our previous knowledge of these characters, but overall this film is fun, colorful, and silly enough to please die-hard Flintstones fans and their offspring. ****

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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