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"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" will fill you up

My TV listings summarize the Cartoon Network's "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" as "Food items solve crimes."

While partially correct, this description a) makes the show sound like the brainchild of a lobotomized toddler and b) makes me crazy to know who writes these listings.

Does some dude just watch the first three minutes of a show before tossing off a blurb? "ATHF's" credits do start off with the anthropomorphic fast food heroes parachuting into battle, but I've never seen them solve any crimes (though they commit plenty). Or does the guy actually watch an episode of every show before making his summary? In that case, what do you do with a show like "Aqua Teen"? What did the TV listings man do, watch an episode full of random encounters with aliens and robots, think "I have no idea what just happened," watch a few more disconnected shows with ever-mounting panic, then after an exhausting all-night diet pill binge, settle on "Food items solve crimes" before tendering his resignation and jumping off a bridge?

"Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters" (hereafter referred to as "Aqua Teen," "the movie," or pretty much anything but its full title) deals with this thematic confusion by opening with a deathmetal band of movie snacks screaming insults at the show's devoted fans, viewers who will be baffled and frustrated by the ensuing 86 minutes, and the jerks who don't turn off their cell phones. Its absurd threats and menacing animation are shockingly funny, an unapologetic howl for the bizarre film to follow, flat-out encouraging us to walk out if we don't like it, because either way, "Your money is now our money and we will spend it on drugs."

The plot, inasmuch as it has one, centers around Master Shake's theft of an exercise machine with the power to destroy the world. This thread is regularly abandoned for appearances by the show's best side characters, squeezing in at least a minute for its most memorable guests.

Expanding an 11-minute plotless cartoon into a feature-length movie is a mildly insane task, but the writers do it well, jumping between the team's quest to put the exercise machine together and get buffed enough to attract chicks, their foes' efforts to stop them from unwittingly ending civilization, and frequent digressions for the character-driven, alternate-logic humor that's made the show a success. There are a few stabs at gravity throughout the hilarious nonsense as Frylock tries to untangle the mystery of where the team came from. None of the answers he finds really mean anything, nor does Aqua Teen ever let his quest get in the way of the gruesomely funny violence or the simple joy of an 8-bit Atari reject flipping off a box of fries with a soul, but it's nice to see some attempt to justify the Aqua Teens' existence. As strongly as it starts, there's no way for a movie that depends on neuron-frying humor to stay as sharp at minute 60 as it was at minute 1. Its comic momentum never gives out entirely, but it does start to coast over the last third, easing into a half-numb drift before going out on the same kind of high note common to the show. For all the ways "Aqua Teen" could have failed, all it had to do to succeed was be funny. It may be feather-light, and occasionally a drag, but it's balls-out, uncompromisingly hilarious. One of the weirdest movies in recent history, it's also one of the funniest. Grade: B+

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