Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review: "Despicable Me"

I like the idea of "Despicable Me" -- an animated world in which there are super-villains but no heroes -- more than the final product. It's cute, and the under-10 crowd will doubtlessly find it a delight, what with the generous helping of adorable critters and gastrointestinal sounds.

I just wish the filmmakers could've found some less obvious territory to troll. Gru (voice by Steve Carell, doing a Slavic accent), the bald and pointy-nosed un-hero, learns there's more to life than villainy when he adopts a trio of little girls as part of his mad scheme to steal the moon.

Cue a bunch of scenes of Gru's eyes misting over as his Grinch-like heart grows three sizes while reading the tots a bedtime story, or rearranging his dastardly deeds to make their ballet recital.

I much preferred the stuff about the competitiveness between super-villains -- for instance, Gru's envy spikes when someone steals one of the Great Pyramids, when all he can boast is burgling the JumboTron from Times Square.

Or the Bank of Evil, which appropriately resides in a dark cavernous pit underneath the regular bank, and solely funds criminal enterprises. ("Formerly Lehman Brothers," a sign reads, in a zippy throwaway joke.)

I confess that when summer began and I was surveying the season's offerings, I lighted upon "Despicable Me" as one of the most promising, and now I'm disappointed with it. It's like waiting months for that special toy you wanted so badly, and then you open it up Christmas Day and it's not nearly as much fun as you thought it'd be.

It's not a bad toy, but maybe some other kid would enjoy it more.

But the first rule of film criticism is that we shouldn't criticize a movie for what it is not, but what it is. So if I throw my expectations for something snarkier out the window, I deem "Despicable Me" a moderately entertaining tumble.

Personally, I'd rather take in "Toy Story 3" in for a third time than this one once, but that's me.

The story opens with the prospect of Gru being put out to pasture for a younger generation of villains. The Bank is hesitant to front the money for his moon-stealing caper because an upstart has stolen the shrink ray that Gru himself had just lifted, with which he intended to downscale the lunar body.

What profit or purpose there is in a basketball-sized moon I don't know, though I admit I enjoyed the gag where a werewolf turns back into a human when it gets shrunk.

Gru's nemesis is Vector (Jason Segal), who resembles a young Bill Gates but whose fortress and other hardware all have an antiseptic Apple look to them. (iLair?)

Vector nabs the shrink ray, and soon after places a large cookie order from a trio of cute orphans: Margo, Agnes and Edith (Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier, respectively). Gru plots to adopt the girls and replace their Coconutties with cookie-shaped robots when they make delivery.

The girls don't really have distinctive personalities beyond yearning to be wanted, though Edith, the youngest, has a passion for unicorns that borders on psychoses. ("He's so fluffy I'm gonna die!!")

The CG animation is sleek, but the 3-D is take it or leave it. Directors Pierre Coffin -- which is a great name for a super-villain, by the way -- and Chris Renaud are both new to feature films, and seem to have more flair for the action sequences than the mushy stuff: Gru's complicated relationship with his emotionally absent mother (Julie Andrews) is under-explored territory.

Oh, and Gru has a grumpy old assistant (Russell Brand) and an army of little yellow minions who bear more than a passing resemblance to the aliens from the "Toy Story" movies ... hey, did I mention that "Toy Story 3" is probably playing in the very next cinema?

2.5 stars out of four

1 comment:

  1. Agnes liked unicorns. Edith was the creepy one.