Disappointingly meh ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Disappointingly meh

Despicable Me
My rating:

You may have noticed that I rarely mention anything about the 3D whenever I review a 3D movie. That's because I almost never watch them in 3D. The only ones I've seen so far are G-Force and Avatar, and I wasn't hot about the 3D in both - no, not even the latter, which is a perfectly great movie without it. I'm a total cynic about this 3D fad, and yes, a fad is all I think it is. I just don't think it adds anything to the movie-watching experience; in fact, all that stuff flying out at me is more often than not a distraction from the story. But I forked out the RM17 to catch Despicable Me in 3D, because I'd heard there's an end-credits sequence that plays with the 3D effects. I figured that's as good an opportunity as any to give this 3D business another chance.

It was okay, I guess. The 3D, I mean. The movie, not quite.

Gru (Steve Carell) is a supervillain. He may live in a typical suburban white-picket-fence neighbourhood, but deep under his ordinary-seeming house is a supervillain's lair, complete with army of Minions (voices of Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud) and scientist assistant Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand). His reputation has taken a few hits lately though, what with an upstart new villain named Vector (Jason Segel) having made his name by stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza. So Gru masterminds a new plan to steal no less than the moon - but first, he will need to get his hands on an experimental new Shrink Ray. And when Vector snatches the Shrink Ray right out from under his nose, Gru plots to make use of three orphan girls - Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) - to get it back. But it isn't long before his three new adopted daughters begin to melt his villainous heart.

It's not funny. It just isn't. Is it just me? I pretty much sat through the whole thing without laughing once. Every joke was obvious and belaboured and, worst of all, given away in the trailers. The bratty tourist kid who discovers the fake inflatable pyramid? In the trailers. Gru's introduction scene with the kid who dropped his ice cream? In the trailers. Gru cutting the queue at Starbucks with his freeze ray? In the trailers. Gru's failed attempts at getting past Vector's defenses? In the trailers. Agnes' cutest moments? In the trailers. Gru blowing away the concession stand? In the trailers. And really, few of these were very funny to begin with. Only the little vignettes with the yellow Minions were... well, amusing is the word I guess, since they didn't really make me laugh either. They were more cute than genuinely funny.

And boy, does this movie trade on cute. Cute is pretty much all it has. It substitutes cute not only for humour, but also for heartwarming. Gru goes from misanthrope who intends to abandon the three girls at a theme park to a loving foster father in a heartbeat, and the catalyst for this change of heart is little more than Agnes being cute. And the other two have even less personality, so I'm wondering what Gru sees in them. Consider the character of Dr. Nefario, and how the story makes use of him. He's the one who sees the girls as a distraction to the steal-the-moon plan, and he's the one who calls Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig), the orphanage director, to take them away. But come the inevitable happy ending, he's suddenly all happy-happy-joy-joy with the girls. That right there shows how lazy this movie is when it comes to characterization.

Indeed, this movie is very very lazy. Consider the Minions. There's a bit in which one turns the other into a glowstick, and while the audience around me were guffawing away, I was wondering: what are these Minions anyway? They certainly don't appear human. Are they aliens? Some kind of subhuman race that Gru discovered and befriended? Or are they genetically-engineered creations of his, designed to emit light when given a back-crack? We never find out, and thus the glowstick gag is a gag, nothing more. Nor does it bother to deal with what could really happen when the moon disappears from the earth's orbit. Am I being too nitpicky about a kids' animated movie? Perhaps. Or perhaps I've just been spoiled by Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, an all-ages animated movie that's actually smart, and treats its audience as if they were smart too.

You know how else an animated movie can be lazy? When it hires a bunch of famous names to voice its characters, but all of them give dull performances. Steve Carell is a very funny guy - he was one half of the best comedic pairing of the year so far - but here, his comic talent is hidden under an Eastern European accent that is pretty much all the characterization Gru gets. Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig and Russell Brand are pure stunt casting. Of the three orphan girls, only Elsie Fisher is noteworthy - because, again, only she gets to be cute. Julie Andrews is unrecognizable as Gru's mother, partly because she too puts on an accent, but mostly because she too has nothing interesting to do. I almost wish they'd did the typically lame animated-movie standby of making pop culture references to the actors and their most famous roles; at least it would've justified casting all these people.

Okay, it's not egregiously bad. Egregiously bad would get two stars from me; this one is still fitfully amusing enough to garner two-and-a-half. But 2-½ stars is a big step down from all the terrific animated films we've been getting lately. Cloudy is much smarter and much funnier. How to Train Your Dragon is much more thrilling and exciting. Toy Story 3 is much, much more substantial and emotionally engaging. I can't imagine any reason to watch this when the bar has been set by the above three films, the last of which is still showing in cinemas. If you haven't seen Toy Story 3, go see it. If you already have, go see it again. Watching this after Pixar's latest masterpiece would be like having a meal of the finest Wagyu beef, deciding you want some more, then going for a Ramly burger.

(Oh by the way, apologies for not reviewing Shrek Forever After. I just didn't want to do Retro Reviews of the previous three in the series.)

NEXT REVIEW: Inception
Expectations: Christopher Nolan FTW BABY YEAH


k0k s3n w4i said...

while i disagree with your review, i can see where you're coming from this time :) (yeah, i'm still rereading your kick ass, a-team and the losers reviews occasionally, haha). i also fully agree with you that this movie banks on cuteness a lot and personally, i have many of the same criticisms you do for despicable me - but i did exit the theatre feeling like i've been thoroughly entertained :D unlike you, i crave for both wagyu beef and ramly burgers, and i like to see both having a place in my diet, to stretch your analogy. also, i went into the film knowing that there's no chance in hell that it's going to compare favourably to TS3 and HTTYD, and fully expecting to dislike it.

the glowstick minion gag was totally random and came right out of nowhere, and its randomness was what i found funny really. i'm really not interested in knowing the origin stories of the little jaundiced buggers or what they can do precisely (aside from being nigh indestructible, capable of surviving in low earth orbit, etc). it's part of their charm.

this is a movie for younger kids, i think. the looney tunes influence is evident.

and i loved cloudy with a chance of meatballs! not nearly enough people have seen it.

as for avatar, i think it's a rather forgettable action adventure without the 3D (i've seen it in normal-D as well). the story in that is even thinner than in despicable me!

i think 3D is here to stay, personally. i like good 3D movies (as opposed to post-prod conversion abortions) and i vowed to see any movie made with the right methods and right sensibilities in the way they are meant to be seen, so i guess hollywood's just going to wring helluva lot more cash from me in the foreseeable future.

i'm going to see inception in a couple of hours. would you fucking believe that GSC snubbed nolan's magnum opus here in malacca by screening it in one of their smaller theatres on opening day in favour of giving eclipse their biggest screen? it's things like this that makes me want to go out with a hunting rifle and shoot teenage girls.

McGarmott said...

Hey man, it's not just Malacca. It's GSC everywhere. With you there about shooting teenage girls. (Speaking of which, check this out! - http://filmgarmott.tumblr.com/post/815164897/minion-competition)

Emboldened by that American critic, lemme just say this just because I feel like saying it right now: I'd rather see Despicable Me walk away with the Animated Feature Oscar than let it fall in the hands of Toy Story 3. Okay, I'm done. :)