‘Despicable Me 2’ a light, mild, overly sweet confection of an animated film

despicable-me-2-in-2d-posterDespicable Me 2

Directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin

Written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio

USA, 2013

Watching Despicable Me 2 is akin to eating cupcakes for 100 straight minutes. Eating one cupcake, depending on the flavor, is heaven in sugary form. Eating two cupcakes is tempting fate and your health, but still delicious. Eating three cupcakes is when you start to wonder exactly how much revenge your gastrointestinal system is planning to exact against you. Once you hit four or five cupcakes, you’ve thrown all caution to the wind, stuffing yourself silly with frosting, flour, and more until you feel woozy and sick. Despicable Me 2 never becomes so painfully filling, but wears out its welcome well before it ends.

Following the 2010 hit, ex-supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) is living a life of familial comfort with his three adopted daughters. His bland suburban lifestyle is upended when he’s recruited to help out an anti-villain organization to take down an old-school baddie who’s got his hands on a serum that turns anything into a bloodthirsty monster. So Gru partners with a daffy, charming anti-villain agent (Kristen Wiig) and quickly falls for her in the line of duty. Of course, Despicable Me 2 is equally about the infinitely malleable Minions Gru has working for him (they now help craft a line of jams and jellies). In advance of their inevitable spin-off movie, the Minions are essentially headlining the film alongside Carell, Wiig, and other actors like Russell Brand, Benjamin Bratt, and Ken Jeong.

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It’s the Minion characters who most tip Despicable Me 2 into an overwhelming, outrageously bright confection that’s bound to induce cinematic diabetes. Because they have no personality outside of whatever is assigned to them by the script (by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio), the Minions can be or do anything, and after 100 minutes, they become wearying and do slightly obnoxious things. There may be a few chuckles to be had at the notion of four Minions dressing up like the Village People and gibberish-singing “YMCA,” but such gags (and that one comes right after another joke whose punchline is the Minions playing at being old pop stars, a meager scrap thrown to the adults in the crowd) wear thin after only a short while. Financially, putting the Minions in their own movie makes sense, but creatively, they may be best used in the shortest of doses, if this movie is any indication.

When Despicable Me 2 isn’t handing itself over to the Minions—who are employed into the plot as the mysterious bad guy begins stealing them for nefarious purposes—it’s dwelling in a fairly familiar, but mildly enjoyable sitcom-esque plot. Gru, unsurprisingly, has not had many pleasant experiences with women so even though he’s attracted to his anti-villain partner, Lucy, he finds himself tongue-tied and awkward. And Gru’s youngest charge, Agnes, is especially pining for a mother right about now, so it should not be particularly surprising that these urges are played for maximum sap. All that’s missing is a studio audience saying “Aww” in unison on the laugh track. In spite of its rote set-up and payoff, Carell and Wiig have some flashes of wit and inspiration in their banter. Carell manages to wring some laughs with his Eastern European-tinged voice, even if the dialogue isn’t exceptionally witty. Wiig is operating in full oddball mode, playing her role as overly energetic, wired, and jittery as can be.

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The only other notable performer is Bratt, as a Mexican restaurant owner who may be hiding a nasty past. (The child actors, including Miranda Cosgrove as the oldest of Gru’s adopted kids, have extremely little to do, compared with the first film.) Bratt is as unrecognizable here as he was in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but given a longer leash to be as flamboyant as possible. What’s more, his character is involved in the funniest sight gag in the film, which includes a shark and a volcano, because of course it does. In fact, more often than not, Despicable Me 2 is funniest when the Minions aren’t anywhere near the screen, perhaps because the movie doesn’t feel the urge to try as hard to convince us that the humans are as funny as the little guys among the ensemble.

Despicable Me 2, like most animated movies that don’t come from Pixar Animation Studios, is content with being all right, and only that. The animation is decent, if not particularly striking or arresting. The gags fly past on a per-second basis, in the hopes that at least half of them will stick. The characters are mostly one-dimensional and familiar. The cast is filled with famous people, presuming that the more famous, the better the casting choice. (Though, considering that Bratt replaced, at the last minute, Al Pacino, that’s not always the case.) And there are plenty of pop-culture references, thrown in to satiate the audience members old enough to drink and vote. For kids, it may be super-sweet and sugary. For everyone else, Despicable Me 2 is just OK, if slightly drunk on the idea that the only thing better than a handful of Minions is a screenful.

— Josh Spiegel

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