PETER COTTONFAIL | The awesomest things about Easter: Cadbury Creme Eggs, most jelly beans (sorry, black!), and that time in 1988 when the cassette soundtrack to Little Shop of Horrors was the centerpiece present of my Easter basket. The worst things about Easter: Peeps, cellophane grass, chocolate crucifixes (seriously, Christians?), and now HOP, a spectacularly lazy CGI/live-action kid-com that posits how dull and agonizing the Alvin and the Chipmunks films would be without the cute-enough musical numbers. In the CGI part, Russell Brand voices E.B., a passably adorable teenage(?) rabbit who dreams of becoming a rock star, which disappoints E.B.'s father, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie), who wants his son to take over the family holiday dynasty. In the live-action part, James Marsden plays Fred O'Hare — pause for groan — a listless, unemployed 30-something who still lives with his parents (Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins) in Los Angeles. Their destinies collide when E.B. absconds to Hollywood and is almost flattened under Fred's car. This is where Hop gets weird and sloppy. Fred is totally unfazed that he nearly road-killed an oversized, cartoony forest critter that's wearing a Stax Records T-shirt and a plaid flannel, but he FLIPS HIS SHIT when the animal begins to speak to him. Which begs the question: In what kind of world does this movie take place, exactly? Some folks (a diner waitress, blues musicians, David Hasselhoff in a desperate cameo) interact with E.B. like they hang out with anthropomorphic varmints all the time. Yet a lot of the comedy hinges on Marsden — an extremely likable actor reduced to twitchy exasperation here — fumbling and flailing to maintain the zany ruse that E.B. is merely an incredibly expressive puppet. Why bother, especially after the entire audience of Fred's kid sister's school play witnesses E.B. moving and talking without the illusion of Fred's arm up E.B.'s ass?
Too much of Hop bounds aimlessly between E.B. and Fred's wheezy slapstick shenanigans and a coup subplot involving the daffy chick laborers at the Easter Bunny's candy factory. The chicks are clearly supposed to be 2011's toddler-friendly-sidekick equivalent of the chattering yellow minions from Despicable Me — Chris Meledandri produced both films — but they're not as funny or endearing. If, however, you dig wacky ethnic accents and obligatory dance sequences, you will be in COMEDY HEAVEN. Hop boasts one brief gag (involving E.B.'s excretory practices) that hits a Pixar-esque ratio of nutty/clever, and there's a potentially novel story idea wherein it's Fred, not E.B., who ends up becoming the new Easter Bunny. (It's not a spoiler when the twist is revealed in the pointless opening narration.) But because Fred is portrayed throughout the movie as an unambitious, bumbling twit whose personal connection to Easter is fairly tenuous — oooh, he kept a chocolate rabbit the Easter Bunny left him two decades prior in its original foil wrapper! — this revelation comes out of NOWHERE. Even in Hop's closing moments, as Fred soars away in a magic sleigh (Santa should sue) to start his new job on Easter morning, you figure he'll be back in his mom and dad's spare room by May Day. On the other hand, you could view this development as encouraging sociopolitical portent. If American viewers make this stale confection a huge hit — and there's no reason to think they won't, as Paul Blart: Mall Cop grossed $146 million domestically — it indicates they're progressive enough to accept a human Easter Bunny. BUSTED! You're fresh out of excuses now, bigots. Just go ahead and let gay people marry already, okay? D+ —Jasper
■■■ Rating: PG. Running time: 90 minutes.