In interviews for Zoom, leading actor Tim Allen has been telling the press it does for super hero stories what Galaxy Quest did for science fiction franchises. I can only guess he meant that it features a curmudgeonly, burned-out, middle-age man grumping around about what he does, because that’s the only common ground shared between the two pictures. In all other ways Zoom lacks the clever insight that made Galaxy Quest such a fun picture to watch.
The title comes from Allen’s character, Jack Shepard, aka Captain Zoom. As the opening comic book themed exposition tells us, Zoom was the leader of a superhero team when he was younger. The government organization that operated the team attempted to bolster their powers, causing Zoom’s brother, Concussion, to turn evil and destroy the rest of the team. Zoom was robbed of his powers, Concussion was sent off into some trans-dimensional rift, and the rest of the team was dead. It was not a happy ending.
Fast-forward quite a few years and the government organization, still in operation even though they don’t have a hero team to observe, discovers Concussion is fighting his way back to their space-time continuum. The decision is made to find a new super-hero team and have Zoom train them. After all, who better to train a new team of super heroes than the jaded burnout who lost his powers and his family on the last outing? However the process allows Allen to approach every situation through sarcasm and an inconsistent anger.
With a setup like this, Zoom has the potential to be the super-hero equivalent of Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Instead of hating the entire institution as he so frequently claims, Zoom is just snarky, verbally assaulting whatever he can. Those attacks don’t come out of the hatred and jadedness you’d expect, however. They are only an attempt to be funny. It would appear Zoom’s response to losing his team and family isn’t so much anger as it is poor humor. You’d think the guy would have tried to become a stand up comedian instead of a mechanic with the one-liners he continually tries to make work. Essentially the movie becomes a vehicle to allow Allen to push for the same type of humor he’s used for most of his career, with less than stellar results.
Supporting Allen is an equally disappointing cast of (what should be) talented actors. Courtney Cox gives up any serious work she has done and regresses back to her Ace Ventura days as a scientist / former Zoom groupie who falls down a lot. Cox just isn’t who you think of when it comes to physical comedy and there’s a reason for that. She just doesn’t sell it well. The person you do think of for physical comedy, Chevy Chase, is also featured prominently in the movie as Dr. Grant, the head scientist who supports Zoom and his team. Grant could have been a slightly funny character if played by someone with a less legendary comedic status. Instead it’s just a reminder that Chase has gotten old, fat, and lost his comedic flair, making the role more sad than anything else. The kids who make up the new super hero team hold their own decently however, with most of the movie’s actual laughs coming from eight-year-old Ryan Newman, the youngest member of the cast and the team. There’s just something funny about a girl who can lift five tons and dresses in a variety of girly costumes ranging from bunny pajamas to something that looks like a poodle costume.
In the end even the movie’s title shows why Zoom doesn’t work. The movie tries to push how this ragtag bunch of super powered misfits bonds together to become a family, but instead the title of the film is focused on one character, one that shouldn’t even be a very important character if the story of family bonding were told better. Instead of delivering a parodic send up of super hero stories like Allen claims, Zoom fails to ever really find its focus as a story, instead moving back and forth between training montages set to pop music and scenes established only to show how funny Allen’s sarcasm is. With no real depth or consistency, Zoom fails to fly.