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

REVIEW: Despicable Me 2

18 07 2013

No one is mistaking Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment for Pixar.  Heck, on its best day, I don’t even think it stacks up with DreamWorks Animation.  But that’s not to say that “Despicable Me 2” doesn’t have a place in the market.

It’s a film content to be just simple and sophomoric, corny and childish – but who can blame them for making a kids movie that’s tailored towards children?  It’s got goofy laughs aplenty for the munchkins, and it’s not shudder-inducing for everyone else.  While “Despicable Me 2” doesn’t hit straight at the heart like a “Toy Story” movie, it’s lovable enough to bring out the soft side in everyone.

Though it hardly qualifies as TV-14 humor, “Despicable Me 2” boasts a completely successful bottling of Essence d’Kristen Wiig into an animated character.  Her Anti-Villain League agent Lucy has all the lovable awkwardness of Wiig complete with all her zany body contortions.  She makes up the deficit left by Steve Carell’s Gru and the adorable Agnes, who simply doesn’t have the same unbridled innocent charm as the original “Despicable Me.”

Yet while Agnes decreases, the Minions increase.  Those little yellow corn-nuggets of energy are back in full force, no longer relegated to side-show status like they were in the first film.  They are even better realized in “Despicable Me 2,” achieving a kind of humor not unlike that of silent comedians (albeit in a very watered down fashion).

Illumination certainly did a good job of looking at what worked in the 2010 film and made it even bigger and better for their sequel.  In other words, they’ve come to the market in 2013 with a product even better suited for the moviegoers that made “Despicable Me” such a hit 3 years ago.  That may be good for investors, but it’s not all that great for the fans.  “Despicable Me 2,” not unlike its predecessor, is a rather disposable movie that charms during the experience but dissipates the second you leave the theater.  Though it is funny, it is also rather forgettable.  B-2stars

REVIEW: Despicable Me

11 07 2010

A lot of comedies aren’t made by the main attraction.  We don’t love “Caddyshack” because of Danny Noonan.  “Knocked Up” might have been any old stoner comedy without Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd’s married couple breathing humor and humanity into it.  Even in animation, would you really say that your favorite character in “Toy Story” is Woody or Buzz?  Or Shrek and Fiona in the “Shrek” series?

So it’s unfortunate that Gru (Steve Carell), the despicable one that the title of “Despicable Me” alludes to, doesn’t really have much to offer us.  While most animated movies require us to suspend reality a little bit, here we have to go so far as to believe that a treacherous villain can go to Starbucks and have a house in the suburbs like normal people while still making headlines.  He becomes deadlocked in a fight for the top spot with Vector (Jason Segel), who we can never really buy as villainous because he looks like Edna Mode from “The Incredibles” in a track suit.  Their storyline is corny and, quite frankly, pretty stupid, but it sets up the “Grinch”-like tale of Gru’s adoption of three young orphans.

Thankfully, the movie doesn’t rely on Gru solely for laughs.  The minions are absolutely hilarious, easily the best part of “Despicable Me” and the real reason to see the movie.  Gru’s partners in crime resemble kernels of corn, and they pop off the screen with more energy than anyone else.  Every time they scamper on, a chuckle is guaranteed, but usually a giant laugh ensues.  We only get them in small doses as comic relief from Gru, yet I think I’d be more willing to sit through uninterrupted minion antics than the despicable villainy of their boss.

The movie has a big heart, something all kids movies should have but few really do nowadays.  This is most evident every time the three adorable kids waltz on screen, particularly the youngest, Agnes, who totally wins us over.  I probably would have cried had it been told with Pixar sensitivity.

So, despicable you, Gru, for hogging all the screen time.  You may be the #1 supervillain, but you aren’t the #1 attraction in your own movie.  B /