REVIEW: Minions

12 07 2015

The tiny yellow Minions from “Despicable Me” became the breakout stars of the franchise, and Illumination Entertainment has happily licensed them to hawk any number of products – Xfinity, GoGurt, Vivo smartphones –  in between installments of dastardly Gru’s villainy.  With their lack of adherence to a single language as well as their inherent childish tomfoolery, the Minions might represent the well-equipped figures for transnational stardom in the time of talkies.  (And to that end, “Despicable Me 2” brilliantly realized their potential for silent-era physical comedy.)

Yet in “Minions,” when all they have to sell is their own appeal, the ploy falls flat on its face.  When the little guys get bumped up from sideshow status to the main attraction, they simply cannot carry a movie.  Though many people, myself included, clamored for them to take the spotlight, this feature-length exercise in branding proves the little nuggets are most enjoyable in small doses.

“Minions” somehow made me beg for relief from the comic relief.  The meek attempts at plot by screenwriter Brian Lynch are downright insulting; not that I was expecting “Citizen Kane,” but a movie targeted at preschoolers does not have to possess the sophistication of a story they scrawl out in finger-paint.  With connections this tenuous between scenes of Minion mayhem, directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin should have opted for a sketch-style film that brought a train of big comedic set-pieces with no expectations of forward motion toward a climax.

If aiming for the lowest common denominator with the audience, pretensions of a narrative are futile.  Everything else aimed at viewers who managed to complete kindergarten feels like a waste, especially the presence of Sandra Bullock as the Minions’ chosen master, the villain Scarlett Overkill.  Bullock’s considerable vocal talents are completely squandered in service of a one-note character that would sound no different if voiced by someone millions cheaper.  Furthermore, the “adult” humor could not be more painful with a recurring transphobic gag and a disturbingly glib attitude towards torture – the film summons the memory of Abu Ghraib only to laugh at the abuses.

The Minions still have a more than welcome place in our culture, despite the complete face-plant of the film.  (Box office numbers will surely reflect otherwise, though.)  Illumination would be wise to relegate their antics to a “Penguins of Madagascar”-style television series, where they can spew gibberish and cause chaos in palatable portions.  Parents, too, can tune in and tune out as they please while still enjoying an agreeable amount of Minion madness.  C-1halfstars