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Sparkless 'Spark' struggles to play above its pay grade
Spark (voice of Jace Norman) in Spark: A Space Tail." - photo by Josh Terry
"SPARK: A SPACE TAIL" 1 stars Voices of Jessica Biel, Susan Sarandon, Hilary Swank, Patrick Stewart; PG (some action and rude humor); in general release

Theres a fine line between homage and a lack of original ideas. Unfortunately "Spark: A Space Tail" falls on the latter side of the equation.

Spark is a kind of hodge-podge of science-fiction ideas cobbled around a heros journey. The hero, Spark (voiced by Jace Norman), comes from what appears to be a Planet of the Apes called Bana (short for banana?), though the monkey angle is never explained. His planet was torn apart by a black hole conjured up by something called a Space Kracken, which itself was controlled by a megalomaniacal ape named Zhong (A.C. Peterson).

After a brief prologue, we find Zhong ruling whats left of Bana, pining to find another planet to tear apart. Spark has grown up on one of Banas orbiting shards, raised literally under a pile of garbage by a fox named Vix (Jessica Biel) and a tusked hog named Chunk (Rob deLeeuw).

There is no explanation why a single fox and a single pig are living amongst a society of space monkeys. Even Sparks nanny robot Bananny voiced by Susan Sarandon sticks to the monkey theme

Unbeknownst to Spark, Vix and Chunk are secret government operatives, still in contact with Banas Queen (Hilary Swank), who is living with Zhong as a begrudging partner. When Spark intercepts a message intended for Vix and Chunk, he sets out to confront the ape responsible for destroying his home.

The resulting story becomes a journey of discovery for Spark, who discovers his special lineage, its associated superpowers, and the truth about what happened to his family after Banas half-destruction. He sets out to find the Space Kracken, hoping to use it against Zhong, but winds up getting sucked into a black hole himself, which eventually leads to him meeting a spirit ghost version of his father.

Theres some potential here and there, but too often Spark feels like a movie dreamed up by hardcore Star Wars fans, from the laser staff to the spirit ghost to the speeder bikes that look a lot like Reys scavenger rig in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The content that doesnt feel borrowed has a few nice ideas the Space Kracken is kind of fun, as are the black hole slicks it leaves in its wake but too often, director Aaron Woodleys story feels routine and forgettable.

Combined with some underdeveloped animation, Spark comes off like a second-tier feature playing way out of its league. This is the kind of movie that is perfect to call up on Netflix to keep the kids busy for an hour while Mom and Dad are getting dinner ready, but nowhere near the kind of experience worth buying tickets for the whole family.

Yet in spite of its low-budget feel, Spark carries the distinct burden of a substantial Hollywood voice cast, making its amateur quality all the more glaring by comparison. Patrick Stewart gives one of the few notable performances, as one of Banas former military captains who has a knack for getting electrocuted. But Sarandon and Swank and company dont bring much to their roles. Peterson plays Zhong as a mugging buffoon who is threatening more because youre afraid of his incompetence than his cunning.

Spark isnt a poor movie so much as it is just out of place. For the sake of their budgets, parents should let this one pass quietly in the night.

"Spark: A Space Tail" is rated PG for some action and rude humor; running time: 90 minutes.
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