I enjoyed the first

Ice Age

picture immensely. The 2002 animated family adventure, featuring a great voice cast led by Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo as a trio of misfit prehistoric creatures, was inventive, humorous, and full of heart.

It wasn't the smartest or hippest feature cartoon out there, but it worked nicely.

Then 20th Century Fox had to go and turn the moneymaker - the $59 million film made $383.3 million - into a franchise that includes three soundtrack CDs, eight video games, a couple of TV specials, and a touring stage musical.

Four film sequels and 14 years later, the best I can say of Ice Age: Collision Course is that it has nice coloring and good picture contrast.

An empty, boring, limping exercise in futility, the fifth Ice Age entry is a picture in search of a reason to exist.

None is forthcoming.

The three original stars are still on board - Romano returns as Manny the mammoth, Leguizamo as Sid the giant ground sloth, and Leary as saber-toothed tiger Diego. Also back is a raft of costars who have joined Ice Age along the way, including Queen Latifah as Manny's mammoth wife, Ellie; Wanda Sykes as Sid's granny; Simon Pegg as Buck the weasel; and Jennifer Lopez as Diego's mate, the fierce tiger Shira.

The story opens with Scrat (Chris Wedge), a saber-toothed squirrel featured in several Ice Age shorts. His obsession with collecting and burying acorns ends in a chain reaction involving a flying saucer that ends up sending a bucketload of asteroids speeding toward Earth.

Will a collision wipe out the Earth's fledgling mammal population just as it killed all the dinosaurs? (Actually, a few dinos still exist in a sort of wildlife sanctuary overseen by Buck.)

Our heroes set about averting the disaster using their natural-born ingenuity and a few insights in mathematics and physics.

Ice Age: Collision Course winds its way through its singularly unexciting story line with tired dialogue, flat jokes, and surprisingly uninventive visuals. One would think that the animation department would at least compensate for the bad script with some awe-inducing visual trickery. Afraid not.

Ice Age: Collision Course isn't a film. It's a glorified Saturday-morning cartoon - and a mediocre one at that.




Ice Age: Collision Course

s1/2 (Out of four stars)

yDirected by Mike Thurmeier. With voices by Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

yRunning time: 1 hour, 34 mins.

yParent's guide: PG (mild rude humor and some action/peril).

yPlaying at: Area theaters.