The Flintstones:
Viva Rock Vegas

directed by Brian Levant
(MCA/Universal, 2000)

I never had any desire to see the new prequel to 1994's The Flintstones. That film, with John Goodman perfectly cast as Fred Flintstone, did a good job of translating the TV cartoon (1960-66) to the big screen, and with that I was content. But Viva Rock Vegas, with an entirely different cast and set at the time Fred and Barney meet their future mates, Wilma and Betty, didn't excite my interest enough to buy a ticket or even rent a video.

But it's hard to ignore an in-flight movie when you're wide awake and tired of reading. So I plugged in my headset and gave it a shot.

Go figure. It was funny.

Mark Addy, best known for his role in 1997's The Full Monty, has nowhere near the screen presence of Goodman as the hard-luck cave dweller. But it worked better than I expected; the film gives us a Flintstone much younger than the husband and father of the first film (and the classic cartoon series), and Addy does a good job in the role.

Brian Levant, who also directed the original Flintstones film, had the challenge of presenting the same characters with an entirely new set of actors. Stephen Baldwin (probably most recognizable from his M&M commercial, where he's outwitted by a piece of candy) replaces Rick Moranis as the bumbling Barney Rubble. Kristen Johnston (Third Rock from the Sun) is Wilma Slaghoople instead of Elizabeth Perkins, and Jane Krakowski (Ally McBeal) takes over from Rosie O'Donnell as Betty O'Shale. (O'Donnell makes a vocal cameo appearance as a talking squid.) Joan Collins is Wilma's mother, Pearl Slaghoople, in a much more active role than Elizabeth Taylor's performance in the first.

Baldwin and Krakowski get special kudos for perfecting their characters' trademark laughs.

As far as plot goes, it's pretty basic. Fred and Barney are newly trained quarry workers, but they're missing romance in their lives. They meet Wilma, who has fled her ultra-rich family and friends, and Betty, who has befriended her, at the fast-food diner where the girls work as skating waitresses.

The obvious happens. But Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson) schemes to reignite his old relationship with Wilma -- primarily because he needs access to her family fortune to pay off his debts. To set Fred up for a fall, he sends the two couples to his new casino in Rock Vegas. From there, the development and resolution of the story are fairly straightforward cartoon fare.

A bonus is Alan Cumming as the Great Gazoo, an alien observer taking notes on (and making snide remarks about) Fred and Barney's mating techniques. Cumming, more than anyone else in the cast, fits his cartoon role to a T. (He's less interesting as rock star Mick Jagged, who falls for Betty in a forgettable side plot.)

Let's face it, this isn't great cinema. But it's a fair re-interpretation of the original cartoon, and it's a pleasant enough way to pass 90 minutes on a transAtlantic flight.

[ by Tom Knapp ]