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Sugar high; The kids will love this over-the-top, sticky sweet Easter-themed flick; adults not so much

It's official now. The papers have been signed and filed. Russell Brand -- the lanky wacko Brit who looks like a street-corner prophet and hangs out in tabloids with Katy Perry -- is a major star.

And this week and next at your friendly local megaplex belong to him.

He opens next week in the Dudley Moore drunken heir role in the remake of "Arthur" (where -- clever notion -- Helen Mirren now plays the nursemaid in a role that won Sir John Gielgud a supporting actor Oscar).

And today, Brand is the star voice of "Hop" as "E.B." -- the wayward CGI drummer son of the Easter Bunny. The movie is a live action/cartoon combo platter which is making an all-out bid to be something of an Easter season perennial.

Nor is Brand merely the starring voice of an animated character in the film. They're so proud of having him in the role that his real physical self has a tiny cameo opposite the adorable CGI bunny who speaks with his voice through the whole movie. (Clever, eh what?)

Trust me, that's when you know when a comic actor is in season -- when he plays a tiny cameo opposite himself.

The most important thing to say about "Hop" is that the kids at the screening loved it. Just loved it. Their sweet little laughter was in evidence all through the film. And when it was over, their little hands spontaneously smashed together in merriment and glee.

I'm glad the kids had a fine old time. You've got to be a grinch indeed not to be.

Me? Not so much.

I did laugh a few times, but the sweetness and the ick factor end up like being force-fed a very large basket of Easter candy. It's not really for stomachs that much prefer dirty martinis and Chinese dumplings.

It's a weirdly Freudian little parallel tale about two wastrel grown sons having major Daddy problems.

The real one -- i.e., the human being -- is played by James Marsden ("X-Men," "27 Dresses" "Death at a Funeral") as a spoiled rich kid who hasn't yet become a lush a la Arthur but hasn't figured out how to hit the world yet either. When we're first introduced to him, we're told right away that he became the first human Easter Bunny. The movie, then, is one long flashback.

His father -- the one with disappointment stamped into his face every time he glances his son's way -- is played by Gary Cole, who does disapproval very well in his middle years.

Brand plays the voice of E.B., the ne'er-do-well hippity hop son of the Easter Bunny whose proper bunny Dad (voiced by Hugh Laurie) wants him to go into the family business and be the next Easter Bunny, delivering hard candy and chocolates to all the kids on Sunday morning.

If, at this point, you're already a little sick and feeling as if you might Willy Wonka, I'm with you, believe me.

The two stories eventually meet when both sons start hanging out together -- E.B. from, yes, "Easter Island" and the poor little rich kid from American suburbia.

All of this Oedipal father-son friction is played out through the film's end, with the addition of a crazed, overly ambitious Easter chick (the masterful Hank Azaria does the voice) who wants to be the next Easter Bunny while not exactly having the anatomical wherewithal. His, after all, is a fluffy yellow chicken fuzz, not warm, mammalian bunny fur.

The damnedest thing about "Hop" is how hip it seems it's going to be, when you just tell people some of the jokes in the plot.

Would you believe Chelsea Handler -- the mean girl comic and self-styled, vodka-swilling princess of eternal spring break -- as the frosty hiring executive in a video company? Or David Hasselhoff, sans floor hamburgers, as a version of himself on a "Hoff Knows Best" TV talent show? Or a musical cameo by the Blind Boys of Alabama singing "Higher Ground" while E.B. plays the drums?

That's an awful lot of genuine cleverness in a film that's still just an explosion of ultra-sucrose jellybeans all over movie theaters.

Hasselhoff, in fact, has the best gag in the whole movie -- which he, nevertheless, delivers like an actor who hasn't a clue how to do green screen acting.

Marsden, on the other hand, is suitably competent in all CGI circumstances, and Brand is, quite predictably, fine as a comedy cartoon voice in stage one of his April megaplex rocket ascent.

Let's be brutally frank here: For adults this is one of those movies you see only because the preteen kids and grandkids you take will have a good time.

It's for the littler ones, say ages 10 and under. The bigger you are, the yuckier all this cine-candy seems.




2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

James Marsden, Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, Chelsea Handler and the voices of Russell Brand, Hank Azaria and Hugh Laurie in live action/cartoon combo about Daddy problems and a competition to see who gets to be the Easter Bunny.

Rated G, opening Friday in area theaters.

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