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updated: 7/17/2014 2:32 PM

Visually splendid 'Planes' sequel takes dramatic dive

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  • Windlifter the helicopter (Wes Studi) takes over as boss of the rescue team in "Planes: Fire & Rescue."

    Windlifter the helicopter (Wes Studi) takes over as boss of the rescue team in "Planes: Fire & Rescue."

  • Dusty (Dane Cook) prepares for his new career as a single engine tanker in "Planes: Fire & Rescue."

    Dusty (Dane Cook) prepares for his new career as a single engine tanker in "Planes: Fire & Rescue."

  • Video: "Planes:Fire & Rescue" trailer


At an auto-bar, an unhappy car laments how a hybrid stole his lady friend.

"I never heard him coming!" he says sadly.

Prepare for a bumper crop of punny business. The sequel to "Planes" has landed.

It takes two-thirds into the leisurely paced "Planes: Fire & Rescue" for Walt Disney's animated comedy to catch a narrative tail wind and soar into a visually explosive parody of Irwin Allen disaster movies.

(Mostly his 1977 made-for-TV movie "Fire!" and his 1972 capsized ocean liner thriller "The Poseidon Adventure.")

But before we get to the good stuff, "Planes" does a lot of gliding on conventions and clichés without much of an engine to push it up and onward.

Remember Dusty Crophopper from 2013's "Planes"? The single-engine working-class farm plane with a fear of heights and a dream to become a champion racer?

He's back.

This time the flaps are down for the poor guy.

During a thrilling 3-D aerial opening sequence, Dusty (Dane Cook, reprising his role) almost crashes and burns. Turns out he has a damaged gear box, and if he pushes his torque into the red zone (never a good thing), he risks a massive part attack at high altitudes.

His gear box is so old, he can't obtain a replacement.

Pistoned-off by this turn of bad luck, depressed Dusty despairs he can no longer be a superstar racing plane.

So, his friend Mayday the fire truck (Hal Holbrook) persuades Dusty to become an internal combustion intern of sorts at the Smokejumpers emergency team at the Piston Peak National Park.

There, he gets his propeller out of whack over the rigid leadership of surly helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris, channeling Harrison Ford?).

On the ground, Dusty dodges the advances of Dipper the tanker truck (Julie Bowen) while learning to fit into the team and work together when disaster strikes.

And it does.

When fire breaks out in Piston Peak, hundreds of planes and automobiles staying at the magnificent Grand Fusel Lodge become endangered.

As the flames -- rendered in eye-poppingly realistic images -- surround the lodge, Dusty and the Smokejumpers (does this sound like a country/western group or what?) go into action to save the day.

"Planes: Fire & Rescue" originally began as a straight-to-video kiddie production. So why the inappropriate jokes (newlyweds assigned to the lodge's "zero-emission" floor) and stereotyping? (Do we really need Wes Studi's Native American helicopter Windlifter to break into spiritual chants with tom-toms?)

When the fire gets going, the screenplay, by director Bobs Gannaway and Jeffrey M. Howard, lovingly references disaster movie conventions, such as the jeopardized elderly camper vans Har-vey and Winnie (Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara), and the villainous capitalist (here, Fred Willard's Secretary of the Interior) who shrieks, "I'm not going to evacuate the lodge just to be safe!"

Dusty shows how airplanes and people can adjust and thrive after having their dreams crushed. But then, the movie negates its own positive theme by succumbing to an unnecessary and cliched "you can have it all" standard happy ending.

Classic Walt Disney animated features created moving, tear-inducing moments by killing Bambi's mother and ripping Dumbo from the loving trunk of his mom.

Here, characters go morose like the Seven Dwarfs mourning the death of Snow White just because poor Dusty can't replace his busted gear box.

It's tough to make a dramatic shift like that. At least with clutching.

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