Jul 10, 2013|
(USA) Using a yellow army of cute to turn a US$69 million budget into US$543 million in worldwide grosses, Illumination Entertainment’s “Despicable Me” was one of the biggest surprises to come out of Hollywood in 2010. I rewatched it last week and time has not diminished how thoroughly charming and damn funny it is throughout, striking that oh-so-difficult balance between kiddie fare and adult entertainment—a balance that few studios save Pixar can pull off with animated films.
So here comes the sequel. From the first time we see the smirking, top-heavy former supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) appear on screen, we’re re-immersed into this bizarre world created by directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud—the devilishly alternative vibe, the throwback to the zany physics and slapstick of “Looney Tunes”-era cartoons, and the frequent check-ins with those goofy, babbling, pill-shaped lemmings that’ll soon complete the trilogy with 2014’s “Minions.” It’s a treat to be back with characters that the filmmakers so clearly adore crafting, though the original formula’s been altered this time, removing much of the sharp edge that was so refreshing in the first film. Instead, it’s sugary, silly, swift and sweet—a fine mix, but one that may be more palatable for the young kids, rather than their parents.
When we last left Gru, he had put his life of crime behind him to adopt the three painfully adorable orphans Margot (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). We open here on his fully domesticated life, the Minions newly repurposed as domestic helpers. While the father-daughter rapport borders on the level of sitcom-sap, the evil genius is now just a shell of his former self, no longer despicable. These days, he’s responsible for a less-than-thriving jam-and-jelly business with his geriatric lab technician Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand). Well, cue a surprise visit from Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), a bubbly, slender agent from the Anti-Villain League. It appears that a mysterious thief has nabbed a secret government serum that can turn even the cutest creatures into pure evil. And Gru, apparently, is the ideal partner to help crack the case. So the two-bit pair, with their half-baked romantic interest, go undercover as mall shopkeepers to squirrel out the suspect.
The serum scheme doesn’t hold a flame to the first film’s moon-stealing plot, but it does provide ample opportunity to further convolute the story. Gru is certain that Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt, at his scene-stealing best), the portly owner of the mall’s Mexican restaurant, is actually fellow supervillain El Macho, who was supposedly killed years earlier in an accident involving a rocket strapped to a shark that was flown into a volcano. A simple investigation of the man would suffice, but it seems that young Margot has fallen for Eduardo’s suave Latin son Antonio (Moisés Arias), severely compromising Gru’s objectivity. Throw in a kidnapping storyline involving the Minions, and there’s a lot of plot juggling happening here: double-whodunnit, rom-com, and jealous-dad stories all fight for attention.
Still: although the stakes are rarely raised and the storylines seem to simply serve the gags, those gags are funny and well-executed enough (particularly those involving Gru’s love life) to win favor from the audience. Carell is again excellent as the Bela Lugosi-accented lead, wringing every last bit of energy and quirk out of the script. The animation, too, has benefitted from a slightly expanded budget—a sequence in which Lucy’s car transforms into an amphibious sub, for instance, is top-notch eye candy that makes it worth a big screen viewing.
Ultimately, though, it’s all a bit vacuous, staying predictable and fluffy throughout. This is in part due to a much larger role given to the love-‘em-or-hate-‘em Minions, whose appeal to you might just dictate your enjoyment level here. While I’m not holding my breath to see those yellow buggers headline the next feature, I’m not disappointed with this outing. The series, like Gru himself, may have softened a bit with age, but it’s not quite despicable yet.
Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Starring Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand
Opened Jul 4
Find out where "Despicable Me 2" is playing in Hong Kong.