To bee or not to bee, that is the question

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When several of my friends and I first found out that Jerry Seinfeld was deeply ensconced in a new CGI animated film titled "Bee Movie," our reaction was the same: "Huh?"

Our feeling? OK, "Bee Movie" -- a moderately funny play on words, kind of like referring to a generic film as "A Movie." I know the guy is a father with three small kids and all, but it still struck me as weird that he'd be inspired to breathe life into something that looks as if it belongs on a Honey Nut Cheerios box.

Seinfeld has more money than some Saudi princes and can obviously do anything he damn well pleases, having pretty much a blank ticket and blank check to be filled in pursuing whatever creative endeavor he chooses.

But that was the point: This is what Jerry wants to do? The man who turned the situation comedy form on its ear with the brilliant and enduring "Seinfeld," which remains as superb in reruns and on DVD 10 years after its finale as it was originally, devotes four years of blood and sweat to animated bees?

"Bee Movie" arrives in theaters Friday, and I still don't get it. Perhaps it all will become clear after I see the flick, and you might think it unfair of me to prejudge. Whatever. It's the way I see it, and I'm pretty sure I am not alone. The first reviews (including that from The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt) have been lukewarm, if mildly praising. They see it as an ordinary movie from an extraordinary talent. So already, there's some downbeat, uh, buzz (sorry).

Mind you, I so want to like "Bee Movie" because it's from a man I see as singularly iconic. I respect his comedy, his work ethic, his integrity, his instincts, his Porsches. He co-wrote, produced and starred in this film, and he hasn't slowed down yet. I don't know that I've ever seen a more active promoter of a project in my life.

Seinfeld seems perfectly comfortable with whatever fate ultimately awaits "Bee Movie." His reputation would take a little smack upside the head were it to be met with a cool reception, but that's about it. Having a classic television show under your belt, more money than you'll ever be able to count and a New York City parking structure filled with your sports cars tends to instill the kind of unshakable confidence he displays.

I also applaud Seinfeld for opting to do something so completely different from anything else on his resume. But this? The story of a bee named Barry B. Benson who sues mankind for stealing all of the bees' honey? An insect allegory about litigation run amok? It all just feels and sounds so much like a one-joke concept that the fear is it's far beneath the man who gave the world "regifting," "shrinkage factor" and "yadda, yadda, yadda."

What it comes down to is the fact that this is the first significant thing Seinfeld has given us in a decade. He did a documentary called "Comedian," an HBO stand-up special, all of those American Express ads and a boatload of stand-up dates. But if you check out his IMDB profile, it's shockingly sparse.

It is perhaps as it should be. With Seinfeld's bucks and clout, he doesn't need to work much (if at all). But when he does work, he is now and forevermore having to live up to a profoundly inflated standard. To his credit, the guy is smart enough not to try to revisit anything "Seinfeld"-ian. Yet when he asked himself "To bee or not to bee?", I fret that he may have made the wrong call.
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