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Andy Bockelman: 'Igor' odd, but amusing feature

The evil scientist is one of the most enduring stock characters of all entertainment, but what about the man behind the maniac? The untold story of the put-upon lab assistant is told in the animated film "Igor."

In the land of Malaria, the earth is barren, and the skies always are dark. The only source of income the country has is creating doomsday devices to strike fear into the hearts of world leaders and collect world ransom money accordingly.

Among the evil scientists who toil tirelessly is Igor (voice of John Cusack). Although he is a genius inventor, he must work in secret because of his hunchback, which has relegated him to be the lackey of the least talented scientist of all, Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese).

As the date of the annual science exhibition nears closer, the good doctor's lack of intelligence blows up in his face - literally - leaving Igor a lab to use as he pleases. In order to impress the community and show that a hunchback can do great things, he takes on the daunting task of creating life.

With the help of his former inventions - Scamper (Steve Buscemi), an acerbic talking rabbit cursed with immortality, and Brain (Sean Hayes), a flibbertigibbet robot complete with a human mind - he attempts to create an unstoppable killing machine. However, his creation has a few flaws - the gargantuan woman (Molly Shannon) he fashions out of dead body parts develops a sweet-hearted personality and a penchant for musical theatre.

Convinced he can bring out the evil of "Eva," Igor attempts to ready her for display, unaware that a rival scientist (Eddie Izzard) is plotting to steal his invention.

Cusack makes a welcome return to the kind of offbeat, underdog role that made him famous in the '80s. Igor's head-in-the-clouds ideals paired with some good one-liners leave him with the combined qualities of Lloyd Dobbler of "Say Anything:" and Quasimodo. He may not equal Marty Feldman (Eye-gor of "Young Frankenstein") as the most memorable hunchback of all time, but he certainly has his own charms.

Buscemi is wonderfully sarcastic as the most audacious hare since Bugs Bunny - and the most self-destructive - while Hayes is perfectly cast as the ironically named Brain, whose forehead reads "Brian," which he blames on a "stupid permanent marker." Shannon is as energetic as ever as Eva, who is quite cute despite her ramshackle body and face.

The memorable characters continue with Izzard as pompous, pretty boy scientist, Dr. Schadenfreude, Jennifer Coolidge as his two-timing girlfriend, Jaclyn, and Jay Leno as Malaria's egotistical ruler, King Malbert.

The movie certainly works as one big homage to classic horror films, with obvious references to "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" in the people and scenery of Malaria.

As family entertainment, however, the appeal is somewhat questionable.

How many parents want their kids to watch a cartoon with a suicidal bunny? Scamper's frequent, fruitless efforts to kill himself are more than a little disturbing to anyone, but especially the average 8-year-old.

Granted, the film takes after Tim Burton's deliciously morbid features "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Corpse Bride," but the flippancy involved is disconcerting considering the target audience.

Although it aims for a slightly older fan base than it should, "Igor" is worth a watch at least for its many clever ideas. After all, any movie that employs the "Annie" song "Tomorrow" as a weapon can't be all bad.

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