28 October 2010

Movie Review: Despicable Me


Despicable Me
2010, 95mins, PG
Director (S): Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Writer (s): Sergio Pablos, Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Cast includes: Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Jason Segel, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Julie Andrews
UK Release Date: 15th October 2010

For a film so primed with obvious comedic talent, “Despicable Me” is a movie oddly short on laughs. The animated caper musters a few notable chuckles on route to its deliberately overblown climax, but given the strength of those involved it’s odd that the guffaws don’t flow a little more freely. Things aren’t helped by an exceptionally conventional screenplay, the film only finding minor redemption through its bouncy visual aesthetic and vibrant voice cast.

Gru (Steve Carell) is a struggling super villain, constantly one upped by his peers and with an imbecilic army of minions to contend with. In a bid to once again shock the world with his cunning malevolence, Gru opts to try and steal the moon, but for that he needs two things. The first is a loan from the Bank of Evil (a setting for one of the film’s cleverer gags); the second is a shrink ray currently in the possession of his irritating rival Vector (Jason Segel). In order to infiltrate Vector’s home and nab the gadget, Gru adopts three little orphans, using their cookie selling capabilities as a way to worm inside Vector’s security laden fortress. However as Gru gets to know the orphans better (the trio are voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier) he begins to display genuine affection for them, thus distracting him from his devious plans.

“Despicable Me” tries very hard to be funny, but the jokes just don’t come together naturally. The humour often feels forced and overly dependent on predictable slapstick, the laugh rate never matching the film’s infectious energy. There is some smartly written stuff for adults (A Lehman Brothers nod solicits a healthy giggle) but on the whole “Despicable Me” doesn’t provide the smirks and chortles its premise demands. Taking the piss out of superheroes and super villains isn’t anything particularly new, but even with that in mind, this is a film that should be a whole lot more amusing.

The picture adopts a frantic tone, a facet aided by its flavoursome visuals. The animation is solid, but the colour schemes and cartoonish character designs are truly excellent, providing “Despicable Me” with a fun and equally unique look. The picture has no interest in concocting realistic CGI environments, instead aiming for berserk moments of goofy action and cheeky eye candy. The tone of the picture is one that Chuck Jones would happily endorse; indeed the film’s devotion to the absurdly comical is debatably its grandest asset.

Steve Carell pulls his weight as Gru, channelling a more distinctive vocal note than most of his other animated work. It’s a silly performance, but one which feels welcome as the rest of the movie desperately oversells toilet humour. Russell Brand gets several big laughs as Gru’s elderly accomplice Dr. Nefario (his boogie robots gag is amongst the film’s best), whilst assured support is provided by Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig and Julie Andrews. Jason Segel is somewhat annoying as Vector (albeit I’m fairly certain that’s the point), rendering him the only frustrating screen presence on show.

“Despicable Me” is directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, the duo infusing the film with a bubbling sense of enthusiasm. The same cannot be said for the screenplay, a drab affair that suffers from dull patches and a general feeling of been there done that. The central character’s arc is about as formulaic as it can be in today’s cinematic climate, the orphan subplot also stinking of generic storytelling. The relationship between Gru and his newly adopted clan never feels organic; as a result the movie lacks a discernable emotional core. Some might argue that this sort of filmmaking doesn’t demand any sort of heartfelt depth, but in a year where we’ve enjoyed “Toy Story 3”, I’d beg to differ.

The finale romps along at a rapid clip, and ups the scale for the moon thieving shenanigans, but overall it’s not enough to resuscitate the film from being a notable disappointment. The final nail in the coffin is the use of a brief dance sequence at the end, a sure indication that the filmmaking on display lacks creativity. “Despicable Me” is an unfortunate blunder, not bad in the traditional sense, but hugely underwhelming none the less.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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