‘Despicable Me 2′ Review
I am not a monster. I want to be very clear and upfront about this. Yes, those little squibbling yellow marshmallows called “minions” in 'Despicable Me' and 'Despicable Me 2' are adorable. I don't care how much of a tough guy you think you are, when these little buggers are vrooming about the screen and warbling and wobbling and making exaggerated facial expressions; it is biologically impossible for a human being not to smile. They're wonderful and the design team that creates them (and the scientists who code the array of imaging rendering computers) should all continue to take a bow. With this qualifier out of the way, allow me to warn anyone over the age of 10 or 11 that 'Despicable Me 2' stinks.
The dip in quality from 'Despicable Me' to 'Despicable Me 2' is as sharp as the one from 'Aladdin' to 'Aladdin: The Return of Jafar.' You may not recall that last title, and that's because it was a direct-to-VHS number done on the cheap. And that's what this new picture feels like – a hastily thought-up opportunity to put our characters through some kind of adventure. Any kind of adventure. Whereas the original had Steve Carell's evil genius and his cache of spazzed-out weapons trying to hijack the moon, this film sends him to the mall.
Yes, the mall. 'Despicable Me 2' is set at a mall, where the heavily accented Gru (that's Carell, if you don't recall), now working for the Anti-Villain League, will keep his eyes open for any shady business from the perch of a false cupcake operation. (Shockingly, the large order placed by the Benjamin Bratt's “El Macho” fails to present itself by the Cinco de Mayo party, disproving the dramatic theory of Chekov's dessert.)
The Anti-Villain League, led by Steve Coogan's Silas Ramsbottom, has traced a dangerous substance that can turn any creature into an enormous (bloodless) purple killing machine. Since Gru knows how to get inside the mind of a bad guy, he's the only one that can help. AVL middle manager Lucy Wilde (voiced in a gratingly sing song-y manner by Kristen Wiig) is sent along to be his mismatched partner and, naturally, eventual love interest.
The “detective” scenes plug along and are, at best, mediocre. Often times they are just annoying. Lots of falling down. There are moments when the design team gets to cut loose and show some elaborate, exaggerated animation – such as a tall tale about “El Macho” flying a shark strapped with dynamite into an erupting volcano – but there is no consistency of vision as in the equally antic-but-far-superior 'Hotel Transylvania.'
There's a whisper-thin B-story involving the three moppety daughters that Gru adopted in the first film that's far more interesting, but the only thing this picture really has going for it are those minions. Like the scribbles on the edges of MAD Magazine, their tangential comic moments are daffy and delightful, a blast of creative fresh air into this alarmingly dull story. It is no surprise that the studio behind this franchise has already announced 'Minions' as their follow-up project. The story of Gru and Lucy is just dead.
Also strange is the big finish. When the bad guy infects our beloved minions and turns them all into honking, nasty, frizzy-haired beasts, it is up to Gru, his old sidekick, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and the kids to shoot them all down with machine guns.
Okay, so the machine guns fire rounds of magical jam and these fruity bullets are “saving” the minions, but the climactic sequence is stitched together like a John Woo film. It follows all the codes of violent gunplay, something of a questionable choice for a movie aimed at kids. There's even a moment where one of the little tykes is blasting away from an airplane-perched turret, rat-tat-tatting with glee. The scene ends with a full-frontal blast from a “fart gun” aimed square at the camera – in 3D. The whole movie builds to this – a fart in the face. The little kids in the audience will laugh. The adults, not so much.
'Despicable Me 2' hits theaters Wednesday, Jul. 3.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.