Directed by Joe Dante, starring Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Joe Alaskey, Timothy Dalton, Steve Martin, Joan Cusack and Heather Locklear.

In one form or another, Joe Dante has always kept his tongue in cheek when dealing with the artform that pays his wages. 'Gremlins' lampooned Christmas movies, 'Matinee' was a loving look at 50s screen kitsch and 'Small Soldiers' was a promo item for a range of toys. But Dante's movies have a dark undercurrent, too. 'Gremlins' had some good things to say about consumerism, its sequel ridiculed big business, as did 'Small Soldiers', and with 'Looney Tunes: Back in Action' Dante gets some good digs in on the film world.

There are really two movies in here: one for kids and one for adults. And it's the latter that works best. With their stars fading, Warner Bros (two brothers playing, well, brothers) attempt to put Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (voiced by Alaskey) back on screen together. But the billed-one starts acting up from the get go and is fired by studio vice president Kate Houghton (Elfman). On his way off the lot, Daffy causes mayhem for security guard DJ Drake (Fraser) and he also gets his marching orders.

Tagging along back to his house, Daffy discovers that DJ's father is secret agent action hero Damian Drake (Dalton), one of the studio's biggest assets. But, in one of those double-take cartoon moments, Damian Drake is actually a real spy who has been kidnapped by the ACME corporation (headed by an atrociously over-the-top Martin). In the meantime, Bugs isn't up to much without his former sparring partner and Kate faces the sack unless she can get Daffy back on the lot. So she and the rabbit set off for Vegas in hot pursuit of Daffy and DJ, who have gone to rescue his Dad, who in turn had gone to retrieve a diamond called the Blue Monkey which ACME wanted so they could turn consumers into monkeys. Don't ask.

There are cross-references and genre loops here that make Tarantino's seem routine in the extreme. Porky Pig and Speedy Gonzales sit at a table discussing political correctness. Across from them the animated Shaggy is giving his big screen incarnation, actor Matthew Lillard, a dressing down. Fraser's mobile ringtone is the 'Looney Tunes' theme. Characters talk about product placement and say it doesn't matter because audiences don't notice anymore. And on and on the winks and in-jokes go, Dante and writer Larry Doyle piling on so many that you'd need to watch the film twice - and then once more with a DVD director's commentary in case you missed any.

Trouble is, most of the magic is in the first half. The second seems more aimed at kids but, aside from an inspired chase through the paintings in the Louvre, the adventure drags and a five-minute cartoon would do the job just as well. A shame, because had Dante kept up the barrage, they'd be arguing about 'Looney Tunes: Back in Action' during film studies classes and student parties for years.

For the duck and the rabbit, this is a chance to steal back some of the limelight from recent cartoon heroes, although the perfect movie crossover for them to reach both younger and older audiences at the same time is still waiting to be made. Dante has restored the cred lost through 'Space Jam', but he won't cause the gang at Pixar many sleepless nights.

Harry Guerin