In one of the great mysteries of contemporary film, most sequels to animated feature hits go directly to DVD while, somehow, a fifth “Ice Age” movie is galumphing its way into theaters. Lacking laughs, energy and sharp edges in equal degrees to its predecessors, “Ice Age: Collision Course” takes huge strides in the hotly-contested race to be 2016’s Most Irrelevant Sequel.
There’s plenty of fart jokes, forward motion and bright colors to engage easily-entertained children, but their parents will be subjected to yet another movie that has all the zing of watching evolution in real time.
Scene-stealer Scrat and his acorn have been promoted from sideline slapstick to plot engine – the hyperactive rodent stumbles upon a flying saucer embedded in the ice, and he accidentally launches into outer space, forming the Milky Way galaxy and sending some extinction-level meteors toward Earth. After five minutes with our protagonists, you may find yourself on Team Meteor.
Woolly mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano) is grappling with plot complications that date back to the Pleistocene era of TV sitcoms – he’s forgotten about his wedding anniversary after wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) has thrown them a big party, and both of them are worried that daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) plans to pull up stakes and go exploring with fiancé Julian (Adam DeVine, Jack Black-ing as hard as he can).
With the impending meteor bringing certain death to the mammoths, as well as sloth pals Sal (John Leguizamo) and Granny (Wanda Sykes, saddled with some of the worst sassy-senior-citizen dialogue on record) and sabertooths Diego (Denis Leary) and Shira (Jennifer Lopez), all seems lost. Not so fast, says weasel Buck (Simon Pegg), who suggests they travel to the area where the meteors always land so they can figure out a way to send it back into space. (The science here leads to the film’s one passable gag, involving a celebrity cameo.)
Adding new characters over the course of the previous four movies has overloaded the proceedings — Lopez has about six lines here — and “Ice Age: Collision Course” throws in a bunch of new ones, from a band of predatory dino-birds (led by Nick Offerman) to the yoga-obsessed Shangri Llama (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). The dialogue that gets passed around to this massive cast, courtesy of writers Michael Wilson, Michael Berg and Yoni Brenner (“Ice Age” series vets all), stoops to pick up every possible gag about poop, butts and penises it can manage to cadge along with way.
Visually, at least, directors Mike Thurmeier and Galen C. Chu, along with their team of artists, know how to create striking-looking characters, and thanks to our heroes’ journey to a city made entirely of gemstones, the filmmakers get to play around with colors beyond the greens and browns of the forest. If only the characters themselves, and what they have to say, could be as interesting as how they look and where they go.
The “Ice Age” movies are so utterly featureless and interchangeable that if Fox reissued an old one under a new title, it’s quite possible that no one would notice. “Collision Course” offers an argument for extinction that even environmentalists could support.