SPACE CHIMPS — ** — Animated feature starring the voices of Andy Samberg, Cheryl Hines and others; rated G (violence, vulgarity, slurs, mild profanity)

On the plus side, "Space Chimps" keeps the toilet humor to a bare minimum and is smart enough to keep the running time to a bare minimum as well.

In fact, this animated science-fiction comedy is less than 90 minutes long, the point at which most youngsters start tuning out.

On the downside is, well, almost everything else. Despite its promising concept, the film is filled with lame pop-culture references and groan-worthy puns, and its technical aspects pale in comparison to those in the recent animated hits "Kung Fu Panda" and "WALL*E."

As a result, the film might appeal to some young audiences, especially those who laugh at simians but it's instantly forgettable.

This particular movie's title refers to three chimps that have been sent on a mission to explore a wormhole that's swallowed up a pricey satellite/probe. The crew includes two ape-astronaut trainees, as well as Ham III (the voice of Andy Samberg).

The grandson of an earlier simian astronaut, the younger Ham has been working as a circus stunt performer. He's reluctant to go into space and has to be tricked into boarding the ship.

Their mission goes awry very quickly. The craft crash-lands on a planet that's ruled by the tyrannical Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels). He's gotten his hands on the probe technology and has used it to enslave the planet's inhabitants.

Apparently a major motive for the film's existence was the launch of a "Space Chimps" video game, which explains why certain scenes feel so much like game sequences.

Also, for such a compact movie, there's a fair amount of story padding. (It seems to take forever for them just to launch the apes into space.)

And frankly, Samberg's smug Ham is so irritating at times that we're not sure whether we really should be rooting for him to get back to Earth.

"Space Chimps" is rated G, though it contains scenes of animated violence and peril (creature attacks, explosive and vehicular mayhem and slapstick), some suggestive language and references, derogatory slurs and scattered mild profanity (religiously based). Running time: 81 minutes.

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