July 31, 2010

MOVIES: Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud, 2010)

A few cute moments, but they're spread too thin.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a would-be supervillain whose schemes haven't been going well, and lately, he's being upstaged by a young upstart named Vector (Jason Segel). Gru thinks he has the answer -- an elaborate plot to steal the moon -- but he's in such a slump that he can't even get financing from the Bank of Evil ("formerly Lehman Brothers") anymore. As part of his plotting to get even with Vector, Gru reluctantly adopts a trio of orphaned sisters, who -- surprise, surprise -- melt his heart and bring out his softer side. Unexpectedly, the gooey sentimental half of the movie works better than the action-comedy supervillain stuff.

Which isn't to say that any of it actually does work, mind you. It's bland and uninspired, with voice casting that never quite takes off. Part of that is due to strange casting choices; given that Carell's doing Gru with an indefinable, vaguely eastern European accent, why would you cast Julie Andrews as his mother? Accents aren't her strong suit, and while she gets a few laughs -- she can sling a disapprovingly maternal "meh" as well as anyone -- her attempt to recreate Carell's accent falls flat. And while Segel as Vector at least understands that voice acting requires a different type of energy than on-screen acting, his performance is only manic, with none of the subtlety or emotional depth that might make the character interesting.

Carell is the best thing about the movie; his punchlines are perfectly timed, and there's a genuine sweetness in his relationship with the little girls. But the writing doesn't give him much to do, and the movie's visual style isn't memorable. The bar for quality animation has been raised awfully high these days, and in a year that's given us How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3, a movie like this simply doesn't cut it.

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