Judge Erich Asperschlager wants to live in America.
They came to the U.S. to chase the American dream. Now they're stuck with it!
Hungarian director Gabor Csupo has spent a lot of his career making TV shows and movies for kids. He worked on Nickelodeon hits Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys, and in 2007 he directed the Disney adaptation of weepy classic Bridge to Terabithia. However, his resume also includes work on The Tracey Ullman Show and its minor spin-off The Simpsons, as well as cult favorite Duckman. Whether for kids or adults, he knows animation, and he knows TV. Though it was made as a film, Immigrants (L.A. Dolce Vita) was at one point supposed to be spun off as a new series on Spike TV. Those plans fell through, but we get a glimpse of what might have been with this DVD, which feels more like a collection of television episodes than a cohesive movie anyway.
Facts of the Case
Written by Billiam Coronel and Josh Lieb, Immigrants tells the story of Joska, from Hungary, and Vladislav, from Russia—two illegal immigrants living in Los Angeles. Along with Vlad's daughter, Anya, they live in an apartment complex that's home to other illegal immigrants, run by a sexed-up old lady landlord. During the course of L.A. Dolce Vita, Joska and Vlad try to live the American dream through various jobs, including manual laborer, warehouse club peon, owners of a Hungarian restaurant, night club bouncer, and drinking contest entrant. They also try (and mostly fail) to land that most elusive of creatures: the full-breasted North American bimbo.
Despite the barebones packaging, Immigrants isn't some low-budget release. Csupo has one major studio release under his belt already, and gathered a talented team of animators—many of whom worked on The Simpsons, or so says the DVD packaging—and voice actors for his latest movie. The main characters are voiced in the U.S. release by Hank Azaria and Eric McCormack. Azaria is a natural fit for Joska, a starry-eyed foreigner. McCormack may be a more surprising choice, but does an excellent job as the booming Vlad. They are surrounded by other comedy veterans, some of whom play such small parts they may well have been doing Csupo a personal favor. Freddy Rodriguez (Ugly Betty) plays Vlad and Joska's Hispanic neighbor Flaco, and Carl Lumbly (Alias) plays an aging black ladykiller named Mr. Splits. In cameo roles, Dan Castellaneta (a.k.a. Homer Simpson) makes a brief appearance as a night cub owner, Tom Kenny trades in his SquarePants to play a guy named Craig, and SNL veteran Laraine Newman barely breaks a sweat as "Hot Chick #2."
It's not much use complaining about notable stars getting such small roles. Immigrants belongs to Vlad and Joska's wacky schemes. Everyone else is just there to react. The ESL pals are interesting enough to carry the 77 minutes this DVD lasts, but given the movie's all-encompassing title, I'd have liked to see their immigrant neighbors get more screentime. I imagine they probably would have, had this made the jump to TV.
Immigrants was made in the European standard widescreen ratio of 1.66:1, which on widescreen TVs is cropped to fill the screen. It's an odd effect and the video quality suffers. On my computer, the movie played in the correct ratio and looked a little better. Tech specs aside, the animation is colorful and stylized. The character design is a little uglified for my taste, but Immigrants would have looked fine on Spike TV, where its fascination with bulbous female anatomy would have been right at home.
I can understand playing the pursuit of sex for laughs, but Immigrants goes too far in reducing the objects of Vlad and Joska's lust to the worst kind of stereotypes. With the exception of Vlad's daughter and a few other rarely seen female residents of their apartment complex, the women of Immigrants have big chests and no brains. They exist to wear bikinis and to have sex with whoever happens to be mildly attractive and within five feet of them. Perhaps co-writer Josh Lieb was still working through whatever made him write 2007's Big Stan, a Rob Schneider train wreck about a con man who's terrified of getting raped in prison.
In addition to outdated views of women, Immigrants is also behind on popular culture. I'm not the heppest cat, but even I know that the song "What is Love?" was played out long before A Night at the Roxbury. Similarly, a major plot point having to do with Christina Aguilera running around naked after all of her panties burn up in a house fire feels about four years too late. Maybe these nods to American culture are cutting edge in Eastern Europe—where this movie originally came out in 2008—but I don't see them tickling modern American audiences.
I realize that the last two paragraphs make me sound like the oldest of fogeys, so I'll back off my cultural criticism and admit that there's nothing particularly "wrong" with Immigrants. It has some decent gags and is technically well made. It just isn't anything special. It tries to be edgy and sexual, but plays it safer than your average Adult Swim cartoon. It makes some clever observations about America, but they've all been made many times before. The characters are colorful and entertaining, but are also just cookie-cutter stereotypes: a Russian who drinks vodka; a Chinese father who overworks his smart daughter; a Pakistani bus driver who used to be a nuclear scientist back home. If this was a review of Immigrants' first season on television, its blandness could partly be blamed on the medium. As it is, there's nothing about this movie that feels like…well, a movie.
Making this release even less impressive is the complete lack of bonus features. Taking a Hungarian film and bringing it to the States with a completely new voice track is an ambitious project. I'd have liked to hear Csupo talk about that, even if only for a few minutes.
Immigrants (L.A. Dolce Vita) is for everyone who has come to this country in search of the American Dream. It is certainly heartfelt. I just wish it were better. It plays things safe when it should push the envelope, and relies on stereotypes instead of saying anything new about the immigrant experience. There are too many fresh and funny cartoons out there right now to bother with something this mediocre.
Guilty, but I won't call Immigration.
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