July 17, 2010

Movie Review: Despicable Me

despicable_me_ver6This is one of those movies that I initially thought I was going to skip. It looked moderately cute, but it still felt a little bland. Besides, they also had Best Buy telling you to use your cell phone in the theater and we all know how well that goes over with movie fans (if you have to ask, it does not go over well. If you see me in the audience your phone better be away). Over time the clips and trailers won me over, plus a few of my friends expressed some interest. So, off we went. I am glad I did. It has an excess of cuteness and a number of laugh out loud moments. Now, don't get me wrong, while it is certainly entertaining, it is far from great.

Despicable Me is the story of a consistently underachieving bad guy names Gru (Steve Carell) who wants to be the best but always comes up a little bit short. In many ways he would be right at home in the Looney Toons universe alongside the likes of Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, and Yosemite Sam. He is set up early on as a rather unsympathetic character, an egotistical bad guy who revels in the misery of those around him. Watch as he feigns sympathy for a young boy who's dropped his ice cream. He makes him a balloon animal, sees the boy light up and gleefully pops it and moves on his way. That's right, he is not a good guy.


It is certainly an interesting approach, having your main character be a bad guy. I like it. It offers a different path into the story and helps it stand out from the crowd. Instead of a good guy who is going through a some sort of life-changing moment we get a bad guy who just wants to be considered the best at what he does and he sees three little girls as his ticket back to the top, overtaking his nemesis Vortex (Jason Segel).

What? Oh yes, I guess I am getting ahead of myself a little bit.

Gru is bad through and through, from his dark attire to his monstrosity of a car to his can't-quite-place-it accent to his use of a freeze gun to cut the coffee shop line. He has a plan to steal the moon using a variety of tools, including a shrink ray. This is to get back at Vortex for stealing his spotlight and thwarting him at every turn. With help from his Minions and three little girls he adopts from the local cookie mill, er, orphanage Gru plans to get the best of Vortex and claim his title as the top bad guy.


That pretty much sums up the story. It s simple and straightforward. Where Despicable Me excels is in its outbursts of hilarity, more often than not involving Gru's horde of little yellow workers. They are hilarious whenever they are on the screen. Similarly, there are many laughs with the little girls as well, but they have the added bonus of cuteness. They are able to cut through Gru's evil exterior and touch his heart in a way no one has ever done before.

While Despicable Me definitely goes for the jugular with its entertainment value, it is not a clear cut winner. It is funny and cute only in moments where there are a lot of sequences that are just dull and lifeless. Instead of being fun all the way through I get the impression that they only had so many jokes and cute moments that why timed them out so that they could fill the whole movie then went back and added filler moments.


What bothers me most about the movie is that it feels manufactured. Yes, I understand that movies are a product of process, but the good ones feel organic. Look at your typical Pixar release (I know, it is too easy to put a film down when set next to Pixar's high standards), their films have a very natural flow to them, the character moments an comedy/action all come together in a way that feels right. The same can be said for recent Dreamworks releases like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. Next to them Despicable Me feels somewhat half-baked, as if they had some great ideas and a unique entry but not enough story for a full feature. This forces the good material they have is spread thinly across the length of the film, thereby weakening the whole.

Bottomline. This is well worth seeing, don't get me wrong, it just isn't a great film. It is a highly serviceable crowd pleaser that doesn't have a mean bone in its body despite having a bad guy as your hero. I guarantee you will leave wanting to take a Minion or two with you and hoping for the best for the little girls. See it and  be happy. Oh yes, Gru has a great theme song by Pharrell.




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