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1 review, 7 user ratings

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Despicable Me 2
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Gru Is In The Heart"
2 stars

Although "Despicable Me" was a big hit at the box-office three summers ago, I must confess that I retain only three particularly strong memories of it. For one thing, I happened to see it immediately after sitting through 'The Last Airbender" and learned that after trying watch two 3-D movies in a row (especially one that botched the process as infamously as "The Last Airbender" did), one's eyeballs tend to feel as if they have had boiling water poured on them for several hours straight. For another, the Minions--the gibberish-speaking assistants devised by legendary bad guy Gru to help him do his bizarre bidding--were pretty amusing, even if they were essentially ripoffs of the toy Martians that were the funniest thing about the original "Toy Story." Lastly, and most significantly from my perspective, it was perhaps the last contemporary movie that my father really liked, largely because of the antics of those minions.

However, many more of you apparently felt a little more strongly about its virtues than I did because it went on to make gazillions of dollars at the box-office and as a result, we are now being graced with the inevitable "Despicable Me 2." If the film does nothing else, it does work as a time saver because while it took me a couple of years to forget most of what happened in the first one, it has only taken a couple of days for the sequel to largely wipe itself from my memory. The film is bright and cheerful and good-hearted enough but at no point does it really demonstrate any reason for it to exist other than as a way for NBC/Universal to rake in another ton of cash from children in need of instant visual gratification and parents looking to get out of the heat for a couple of hours, even if it requires an added $3-a-head extortion for the miracle of 3-D. Let me put it this. If my father were still around, he would have been excited to see it and he might well have even liked it since it is pretty much the same thing as the original. However, if one were to have brought up the notion of a "Despicable Me 3" in the future, I suspect that his excitement over that possibility would have been muted at best.

Having rejected a life of super-villainy in order to raise the trio of adorable moppets that he found himself caring for in the previous film, the once-menacing Gru (Steve Carrell) is now content to dote on his adopted daughters around the clock--even taking over the role of fairy princess at the birthday party for the youngest when the one hired for the occasion is a no-show--while reconfiguring both his elaborate mad scientist machinery and his endless supply on minions so as to shift from world domination too the slight more cutthroat world of jelly manufacturing. Evidently, being eyeball-deep in pectin is not quite as exciting as it sounds and when he gets brought in by the top secret Anti-Villain League to help with a new mission--it takes a super-villain to think like one and all that--he only offers up token resistance before signing on. It seems that a powerful transmutation serum has been stolen from a top-secret military facility and traces of it have turned up at a local shopping mall. Gru's mission is to go undercover as the new owner of the cupcake shop, find who stole the serum and save the world.

Uncovering the mystery is easy enough for Gru, especially when he becomes convinced that the mild-mannered owner of the mall's Mexican restaurant (Benjamin Bratt) is really the presumed-dead super-baddie known as El Macho. The complications begin to set in when Gru's kids become convinced that he needs romance in his life and try to sign him up for online dating. That doesn't work out so well but Gru soon finds himself developing strange feelings for Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), an operative from the Anti-Villain League who is assigned to serve as his partner for the investigation and to eventually find herself tied on top of a shark strapped to a rocket aimed straight inside an active volcano. (Don't give me any whining about spoilers--in a film like this, you would walk away disappointed if someone didn't wind up tied to a shark strapped to a rocket aimed straight inside an active volcano.) Another added romantic complication creeps up when Gru's eldest foundling, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), finds herself crushing on a boy who just happens to be El Macho's son, a development that ends up driving Gru to distraction. Other characters pop up featuring the voices of Russell Brand, Steve Coogan and Ken Jeong, which means that when the tie-in fast-food meal comes out, here is hoping that it includes a penicillin shot alongside the fries and plastic toy.

Okay, while you were reading the above plot summary, I slipped off to re-read my review of the original film to see if it might jog my memory. As it turns out, there were a few other things about it that I liked about it in addition to the minions. Instead of attempting to approximate the lush scenic design of Pixar or Disney, the film went for a stylized look that lent an appealing European-like style that helped to set it apart from its competition. Although the proceedings never got too violent, the wild battles of one-upmanship between Gru and his nemesis inspired some big Chuck Jones-style sight gags that brought to mind the classic "Spy vs. Spy" comics in "Mad" magazine while also serving as an effective counter-balance to the more sentimental stuff involving his growing fondness for the little girls. More significantly, especially if you are in a position where you pretty much have every animated film that comes around the bend, it kept the jokes about bodily functions to a minimum and was over and done in a brisk 90 minutes. As I said in conclusion, "Put it this way--“Despicable Me” may not be a great animated film but it will do nicely until the next one does come along."

With "Despicable Me 2," however, most of the inspiration that pushed the original along has been cast aside and the result is a film that is more interested in giving audiences a near-total replay of the first film instead of looking for a way to send the material in new and interesting directions in the manner of the "Toy Story" sequels. The storyline this time around is so thin and uninteresting that it would barely serve as the basis of a half-hour "Despicable Me" TV special. Furthermore, it has been stretched to feature length only with an absurdly complicated set-up to the story and the addition of a number of subplots that are introduced with great fanfare--the mall investigation, the undercover gig at the cupcake shop and one Minion's own crush on Lucy--and then summarily abandoned. The balance between the silly and the sentimental is off this time around--it wants us to care about Gru finding true love but never gives us a reason why we should. The Minions are still pretty funny but the film leans a little too hard on deploying their nonsense to perk things up when things begin to sag and the part in which the Minions are dosed with the transmutation formula and turned into weirdo purple-hued creatures feels as if it was jammed in there simply to inspire a new line of toys and other crap. For his part, Carrell manages to wring a few laughs out of the material by the sheer force of his personality but none of the contributions by newcomers like Kristen Wiig and Benjamin Bratt are particularly distinctive or amusing.

"Despicable Me 2" is a disappointment but to be fair, it is hardly despicable itself. For starters, it is certainly better than its direct competition at the box-office this summer--it is nowhere near as dull as "Epic" and nowhere near as lazy and half-assed as "Monsters University." Although the visuals are dulled by the 3-D process (which offers up one impressive bit towards the end but is otherwise not worth the $3 upgrade), the film is still bright and cheerful to look at, though it lacks some of the distinctiveness of the first film. There is enough fast action and outright silliness to distract little kids while older viewers may enjoy some of the sight gags and in-joke references to other movies. Most of all, there are those Minions. Yes, they do begin to wear out their welcome a bit after a while and the notion that they are getting their own spin-off movie--one that is plugged in an especially heavy-handed manner during the end credits--suggests that such a film could one day become the definitive definition of the phrase "too much of a good thing." That said, they do score most of the biggest laughs on display here and if nothing else, the film provides what could be a definitive answer to the question of why there do not appear to be any female Minions.

"Wait a second," some of you may be wondering, "wasn't Al Pacino supposed to be doing a voice in this film?" In fact, Pacino was originally cast as El Macho, recorded the dialogue and then, for reasons that have not quite been adequately explained other than the usual stuff about "creative differences," he left the project at practically the last second and Bratt was quickly brought in to redo the voice. Bratt is okay but the role really could have used the over-the-top bluster that Pacino provides even when doing something as innocuous as ordering lunch. Ordinarily, this is the kind of insider-baseball bit of information that I would not even bother noting except for thee fact that I just find it amusing that after a career that has seen more than its fair share of ill-advised and occasionally downright inexplicable choices in the last few years--things like "The Recruit," "88 Minutes," "Righteous Kill" and the immortal "Stand Up Guys")--the silly cartoon is the one where he finally decides to exert some form of quality control.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22588&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/02/13 14:54:06
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User Comments

1/21/19 Louise (the real one) What's not to like here? It's colourful, silly, fun and uplifting! MINIONS RULE! 5 stars
1/27/14 dr.lao Lacks the impact of its predecesor, but still fun to watch 4 stars
12/25/13 Charles Tatum Fun to be had, although Epic was better. 4 stars
8/01/13 Suzie Williams Minions totally make this movie! Funny and silly. I liked it more than the first. 5 stars
7/16/13 G The minions couldn't save this lazy, uninspired, racist mess. 2 stars
7/05/13 KingNeutron Lucy totally reminded me of Helen Mirren - this was better than the original! 5 stars
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