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Despicable Me 2

When I originally wrote about the mediocre “Despicable Me” back in 2010, I ended my review on somewhat of a snarky note, saying that it was “like a fat kid running down the street” and that “it probably won’t get far, but at least it’s trying.” Three years later, my foot has been firmly planted in my mouth and the film has found enough success to warrant a sequel. Yet some things never change. What worked before works here and what didn’t is still ever prevalent. This isn’t a case of a sequel trying to improve on the original. It’s a case of a studio looking at their product, seeing how closely it resembled its predecessor and saying, “Good enough.” Fans of the original will likely enjoy this as well and bring it plenty of success, so I guess I should update my snarkiness to fit a more believable outcome. “Despicable Me 2” is like that surprisingly athletic fat kid running down the street. It shouldn’t get very far, but it somehow does.

Gru (Steve Carell) has given up his evil ways. Those three kids he fell in love with in the first movie, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier), are now his entire life and he wants to support them through legitimate means, namely by producing the most awful tasting jelly imaginable. However, he’s soon recruited by Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and the Anti-Villain League, an organization dedicated to stopping crime on a global scale. Their current investigation has to do with the disappearance of a top secret research facility in the Arctic Circle that contained a dangerous transmutation serum. Given that Gru was once the most brilliant villain on the planet, they need his help, so despite his initial reluctance, he sets out to find the serum and stop the mastermind behind its disappearance.

Like the previous installment, “Despicable Me 2” does not lack an imagination. The sight gags, particularly that come from the mall Gru and Lucy spent most of their time in, are clever and well placed and the minions, those adorably clueless little yellow guys, are just as loony as ever. Their expanded roles in this movie that, without spoiling anything, are central to the overall plot, make way for some great moments that are easily the most memorable and enjoyable of the entire thing. The problem is that much of their humor and, indeed, the entire film’s humor derives from slapstick comedy, the laziest, cheapest, most lowbrow from of humor there is.

Within the first 10 minutes alone, someone falls off a roof, gets hit with a medieval type mace and car, sprayed with a hose and tasered. The movie clearly has a young demographic in mind, an understandable focus, but it caters to them not by offering witty and well written stories like the majority of Pixar or DreamWorks animated films, but rather by appealing to their most basic senses, not unlike when a baby laughs at their parent getting hit in the face with something. What little story it does have is rudimentary and predictable: another love story. The kids, as much as they love Gru, want a mother, so they pressure him into dating, which leads to an overarching theme that is no more effective than the underexplored blossoming of young Margo.

What “Despicable Me 2” is sorely missing, and what “Despicable Me” had in abundance, is a strong antagonist. Vector, voiced so wonderfully by Jason Segel, was a strong character whose eccentric personality and ideals conflicted with Gru’s, leading to a battle of wits that added an ever-so-subtle layer to the original film. This movie lacks that. Because the bad guy is a mystery for the majority of its runtime, no real threat or character is every really established, just the veiled persona the villain hides behind.

Still, “Despicable Me 2” does offer up the same charm of the first movie, even if it is less significant in what amounts to little more than a rehash. It’s inoffensive, goofy and bound to put smiles on the faces of the children and parents in the audience. But with a plethora of other, more meaningful animated films with wonderful messages about growing up and coping with the harshness of life (including the recent “Monsters University”), this just feels like a time waster. It’s by no means terrible, but “Despicable Me 2” needs to do a whole lot more than throw its characters around like abused ragdolls to make it worth the price of admission.

Despicable Me 2 receives 2/5


The Hangover Part III

Years from now, when people discuss the best comedies of this generation, I fully expect 2009’s “The Hangover” to feature prominently in their conversation. Although it certainly had its detractors, it was widely found to be quite funny, a consensus made by both the movie going public and the critic community. Its sequel, which can more appropriately be called a remake, was less successful in terms of quality because comedy requires the element of surprise to work and surprises were few and far between due to recycled jokes and plot lines. This week’s “The Hangover Part III” abandons the narrative structure of the previous films and successfully sets itself apart. Unfortunately, it’s one of the only things it’s successful at doing.

This time, the boys don’t have anything crazy planned. They have moved past the events from the previous two movies and are content with their lives, that is except for Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who tries to fill his emptiness with things like the purchasing of a giraffe, which he promptly and accidentally decapitates soon after. His wild life has led Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) to stage an intervention. This convinces Alan to enter rehab to get his life under control, but on the way, a drug kingpin named Marshall (John Goodman) rams them off the road. It turns out Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) has stolen over $20 million in gold from him. Mr. Chow’s whereabouts are unknown since his escape from a prison near Bangkok, so he figures the Wolfpack may be able to find him. He takes Doug hostage and gives the trio three days to get his money back. Otherwise, Doug is dead.

The most common criticism that “The Hangover Part II” received was that it followed too closely to its predecessor. It’s a fair complaint, but it’s also understandable. Director Todd Phillips had something special with the first movie, a comedy that fired on all cylinders, provided plenty of laughs, had likable characters and a story with an intriguing mystery at its core. To want to recreate that magic a second time is perfectly reasonable, even if it did ultimately fail. But “The Hangover Part III” is another beast altogether. It does nothing but coast by on the franchise name and star power of its leads. It has no material to sustain a full length movie, only the thinnest of paper thin plots to move it along and jokes that oftentimes can hardly be considered such.

The jokes this time come at a far less frequent pace (and legitimate laughs even less so). Large chunks of the movie go by with nary a joke in sight, the only humorous moments coming from Galifianakis’ goofy demeanor and not from a witty script. This comes as no surprise since Galifianakis is the only one even trying, the others merely coasting by for the paycheck, clearly uninterested in what’s going on, but it’s a futile attempt. Galifianakis’ character was always written as the dimwitted one, the one that spoke before thinking, but his simplemindedness from the previous movies has now devolved into outright cruelty. Few would argue that the characters were walking examples of morality in the other movies, but much of their meanness came from name calling and harsh jokes among themselves, a normal occurrence between male friends. Here, the characters spill glasses on purpose for the house maid to clean up, verbally abuse old ladies in motorized wheelchairs and talk poorly to their mothers, to the point where Alan even wishes his mother dead.

Cruelty does not equate to comedy, a revelation made clear by recent debacles like “Bachelorette” and “Project X,” yet that’s nearly all “The Hangover Part III” has to offer. What little actual jokes it does have are unfunny or rehashes of other familiar jokes, like the model building joke from “Zoolander.” Its locations—prisons, funerals and interventions, just to name a few—simply aren’t ripe for comedy and very few movies with similar settings pull it off (the 2007 British film “Death at a Funeral” being a standout exception).

Although I’m sure many will prefer this narratively new film over the rehash that was “Part II,” this is nevertheless far worse. At least “Part II” tried. It was a lazy attempt, but it had a desire to be funny. This has no comedic flow or energy and laughs are scarce. What’s worse, the focus on Alan and Mr. Chow relegates both Stu and Phil to sidekicks who are given little to do. “The Hangover Part III” is a comedic abomination and, as a third entry to one of the funniest movies in recent memory, a colossal disappointment.

The Hangover Part III receives 1/5


Furry Vengeance

Bad comes in various forms. There are those movies that are easy to pick apart, one that does so many things so wrong that it gives me plenty of venom to spew when I write my reviews, and then there are those movies that are so bad you can’t find the words to describe them. Furry Vengeance falls into the latter category, a film so vapid, so mind numbing, so ill conceived that it has to be seen to be believed. It’s at a level of bad that is indescribable, but I’ll do my best.

The film stars the go to slapstick funnyman Brendan Fraser as Dan Sanders, a housing developer who is working on a project that will effectively wipe out an entire forest. He has brought his wife Tammy, played by Brooke Shields, and his son Tyler, played by Matt Prokop, along with him to live on site for one year, but when his boss, Neal Lyman, played by Ken Jeong, asks him to commit to another four years, he accepts and prolongs their stay. However, their presence is not welcome in the local forest and the animals all decide to band together and run them off their land.

Yep, it’s one of those movies—a live action animal slapstick comedy. The difference between this and something like G-Force or Dr. Dolittle, however, is that the animals don’t talk, or at least not to the humans. They talk amongst themselves as they create strategies and they do it through thought bubbles, like the ones you see in newspaper comic strips. Perhaps because they are forced to work with the resources they are given, their plan mostly consists of humiliation tactics like defecating on Dan’s car, spraying him in the crotch with water and lining up a batch of skunks to spray him not once, not twice, but in three different instances.

And how humiliating it is. Not for the character—who cares about him?—but for Brendan Fraser. You’d think after starring in movies like Monkeybone, Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle he’d be tired of relegating himself to a punching bag. He does nothing in this film he hasn’t done in countless others. He contorts his face in all kinds of silly manners and takes a physical punishment unparalleled among other actors. If there were a Guinness Book of World Records movie category for Most Times Hit in the Groin, I’m sure Fraser would reign champion. His mangled member has willingly taken so many shots throughout the years that it’s probably shaped like an L.

I’m sure Fraser’s mindset when accepting these types of roles is a fun one where he hopes to bring laughter to any children who may see his movie, but does he not realize how degrading it is? Never mind his previous movies. Just in this one alone he is urinated on, covered in feces and seen naked wearing a woman’s bra, among others.

I kind of admire the man for having the guts to do these types of things, but I also feel like giving him a hug because he’s a decent actor (as seen in Crash) and deserves better than this. I feel largely the same about the supporting cast who have all seen better days, sans Prokop who somehow manages to embarrass himself more than Fraser just from his pathetic acting abilities.

Furry Vengeance is a boring, insipid, tedious film that tries to tack on a half assed eco friendly "Save our forests!" message to its low brow slapstick, succeeding only in making the proceedings even more painful. As a film reviewer, I try to go into movies with my mind wiped clean of any preconceived notions and give them a shot, but this was one of those occasions where I couldn’t help but break that rule. My expectations were lower than low and still the final product fell far short. Furry Vengeance scrapes the bottom of the cinematic barrel and has officially dethroned Cop Out as the worst film of 2010 thus far.

Furry Vengeance receives 0/5