Writing about a cult object as impenetrable as Aqua Teen Hunger Force ColonMovie Film for Theaters (First Look Pictures), based on the Cartoon Network animated series, poses a dilemma. Do you go and rent six years’ worth of the show, familiarize yourself with its coded mythology, and then embark on an earnest explanation of the Aqua Teen universe that accounts for the show’s devoted underground audience? Nah, that’s for suckers. Sure, I’ve caught the show a few times in the late-night Adult Swim lineup, but I’m going to review the movie the way that Aqua Teen’s trio of protagonists approach everything they do: as lazily and as ignorantly as possible.
As explained in the theme song, an infectious rap by Schoolly D, that trio consists of Frylock, a sarcastic box of French fries (voiced by Carey Means); Master Shake, a narcissistic dairy drink (voiced by Dana Snyder); and Meatwad, a transcendently stupid blob of ground beef (voiced by Dave Willis, who co-created the series with Matt Maiellaro). These sentient snacks live together in suburban New Jersey in a graffiti-covered, wood-paneled house, where they play video games and squabble with their slovenly neighbor Carl (also voiced by Willis).
To the extent that the film has a story at all, it’s an attempt to supply an origin myth for its three fast-food heroes. Did they exist in some earlier reincarnation in Ancient Egypt (as suggested in a Dadaist opening flashback with the subtitle, “Ancient Egypt, Thousands of Years Ago, 3 p.m., 1492”)? Or were they created by their nemesis, the mad scientist Dr. Weird, in his mountaintop laboratory that’s been converted into condo lofts? Whatever their beginnings, the Hunger Force’s mission in the present day is to keep an evil exercise machine called the Insanoflex from taking over the world. To do so, they’ll need to have repeated and increasingly senseless interactions with the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past, a talking watermelon slice that flies around in a hollowed-out watermelon spaceship, and the Mooninites, two slow-moving aliens straight out of a Pong-era video game. (It was the Mooninites, pictured on otherwise unmarked flashing signs during a guerilla marketing campaign in Boston last winter, who caused the bomb scare that resulted in a $2 million settlement from Turner Broadcasting.)
That, I think, will do for plot summary, since to watch ATHF is to give up entirely on linear narrative and just sort of groove on the sudden shifts of pop-cultural reality. ATHF can seem brilliantly deconstructive one moment and stupefyingly boring the next—or to provide a more accurate ratio, it can follow five brilliant seconds with five straight minutes of boredom. At 87 minutes, this movie could hardly be any shorter and still count as a feature film, but it still plods for long stretches. On TV, the show exists in the form of 12-minute-or-less bursts between commercials, and that’s about as long as the movie sustains any individual joke. But some of them are good while they last—especially the opening riff on those old “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” bumpers in which boxes of popcorn and candy cheerfully beg to be eaten.
ATHF bears some resemblance to South Park (I’d love to see a Venn diagram of the two shows’ overlapping audiences), but it lacks South Park’s economical storytelling and ripped-from-the-headlines topicality. Neither a satire, a pastiche, nor a parody, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters is like the bright-colored gunk you might vomit up after a weekend of gorging on cartoons, B movies, and bad science fiction. But when I compare the movie to vomit, I don’t mean it in a bad way—a paradox that Willis and Maiellaro, with their scatological, stoner-friendly humor, would probably understand.