'Despicable' 2 slapstick's fun, script lacking

Published on Thursday, 11 July 2013 22:29 - Written by By Stewart Smith ssmith@tylerpaper.com

I can’t decide how disappointed I should be with “Despicable Me 2.” Is there an appropriate level of disappointment I should harbor for a franchise that’s enjoyable but one I don’t feel any particular connection to?

The first film was something of a surprise. I didn’t expect to walk away enjoying it as much as I did (or really, enjoying it at all, for that matter). But it has its undeniable charms. It’s clear Steve Carell has loads of fun voicing Gru. I loved the Charles Addams-esque art and character designs. And, almost to my chagrin, I ended up being charmed by the silly slapstick of Gru’s Minions. Yes, they get crammed down our throats in the marketing, but they work. The first was fun and light, though I felt it never fully capitalized on the world it established. In short, I was more than happy to see the further adventures of this reformed supervillain.

There are elements of what made the first enjoyable present in the sequel. Carell is still fun. The Minions are even better, providing some great slapstick moments. And there’s a pretty fantastic supervillain at the center, El Macho (voiced by Benjamin Bratt). So why does most of the film take place at a shopping mall?

Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help them take down the bad guy responsible for stealing a serum capable of turning typically docile creatures into mindless monsters. They want Gru to use his knowledge of the supervillain community to sniff out the incognito perpetrator.

It’s a harmless set up and it leads to all manner of ridiculous situations, but that’s sort of my issue. It’s fine enough just being silly and what have you, but it feels like there’s so much potential being wasted here. There’s such a funny, colorful world that these characters inhabit, one wherein supervillains and their nefarious plots are apparently rather commonplace, and the script never comes close to capitalizing on that.

It still manages to work, for the most part, though, disappointing as it may be. The moments of humor connect, even at their most juvenile. And it really can’t be stressed enough how much I actually laughed at the bumbling slapstick and comical jibberish of the Minions, which seems so odd for me to say. These are characters that, at first glance, seem like a studio’s way of forcing mascots on an audience. And yet the filmmakers have managed to use them to define so much of the series’ personality. Or maybe I’m just really starved for some quality slapstick. It’s hard to say.

I guess what really holds this together is the fact that it, like the first film, really wants to leave the audience with some tugged heartstrings. I might have wanted more supervillainery in the first, but the relationship between Gru and his (eventually) adopted daughters hit some surprisingly honest and heartfelt notes. The second tries to go the same route by helping Gru find true love, as he’s paired up with the eternally peppy, sing-songy Lucy (Kristen Wiig), his liason to the Anti-Villain League and partner as he undertakes his appointed task. It’s sweet and well-meaning, though it doesn’t connect to the extent that the script wants.

I don’t know. It’s hard to know what to say here. There are certainly far worse kids films out there and it’s not like this was a bad film or even unpleasant to watch. I got some laughs out of it and the animation looks good. If that’s really all you want (or need, should you be the parent being dragged to this thing by your kiddos) out of a movie of this sort, then hey, it’s worth your time at the theater.

Otherwise, I’ll just keep hoping that the next one will maybe do something substantial with the world that’s practically begging to be exploited here.

Grade: C+