[Screen It]


(2013) (voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Comedy: A reformed super-villain tries to discover who's stolen a powerful serum, all while raising three daughters and falling in love with his partner.
Having previously shrunken, stolen and then returned the Moon to its rightful place, former super-villain Gru (voice of STEVE CARELL) has given up the life as a bad guy. Instead, he's now a family man raising his three adopted daughters, Margo (voice of MIRANDA COGROVE), Edith (voice of DANA GAIER) and Agnes (voice of ELSIE FISHER), while starting a jam and jelly business. While he's happy, his evil scientist assistant, Dr. Nefario (voice of RUSSELL BRAND), misses doing something evil and thus takes a job with another villain. Even with him gone, Gru still has plenty of help around in the form of his many yellow-skinned and rambunctious minions.

Unbeknownst to Gru, someone has stolen a secret serum that can turn any creature or person into a nearly unstoppable monster. Accordingly, the Anti Villain League has sent Agent Lucy Wilde (voice of KRISTEN WIIG) to kidnap and return Gru to headquarters where he's given the assignment to work with Lucy in finding the perp who's believed to be operating from an establishment in a local mall. Arriving there, they scope out the various potential suspects, with Gru believing that Mexican restaurant owner Eduardo (voice of BENJAMIN BRATT) might be a former super villain. But he has even bigger concerns when that man's smooth operating teenager, Antonio (voice of MOISES ARIAS), sets his sights on Margo and sweeps her off her feet.

While having to deal with that, Gru and Lucy try to determine if Eduardo is their man and how to stop him and his army of serum-fueled monsters.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
The old saying in the world of law & order is that if you do the crime, you must do the time. Granted, not everyone gets caught and thus don't face any prison sentence. But for those who do, the stigma of being an ex-con often follows them when they return to the outside world and try to get a job or, God forbid, actually start a business. That is, except for those who committed white collar crimes or are such an expert in some arena that their past notoriety actually helps them later on in the business world when they're hired as consultants, specialists and/or commentators.

Accordingly, when you shrink down the moon and steal it, one would think you'd certainly serve a considerable amount of time but also be hired by someone for your expertise. That exact crime was committed by the super-villain Gru in 2010's unexpectedly delightful "Despicable Me," yet he served no time and even got to keep his recently adopted daughters.

They're all back in the expected sequel, "Despicable Me 2," and while the reformed villain does indeed get hired to do some heavy lifting (in terms of finding another villain who's stolen a powerful serum), he and the story elements revolving around that main plot thrust are constantly upstaged by a bunch of small, yellow-skinned supporting characters who steal every scene in which they appear. They, of course, are the ex-villain's minions and like Scrat the Squirrel in the "Ice Age" movies, they're far more entertaining to watch than the main characters, even if we can't understand a word they're saying.

They and their antics certainly had the kids at our preview press screening howling with delight (when not feigning comical disgust at the various bits of crude humor -- yes the fart guns make a stinky return) to the point that you sort of wish they had their own film (something rumored to be in the works). Granted, that usually doesn't pan out well as the fun is that they arrive in small occasional doses and having them front and center in the spotlight for an entire film could diminish their appeal.

Whatever their future cinematic exposure might be, they certainly help gloss over that this sequel isn't quite as enjoyable as the original flick. Part of that's due to the novelty factor no longer being in play. However, it also stems from the main character being somewhat neutered. In the first film, Gru (again voiced by Steve Carell with plenty of vocal aplomb) was diabolical and determined to one-up his rival super villain. Sure, things didn't always go as planned (that being part of the charm of the humor of watching him react), but at least he had a strong motive.

Here, he's been domesticated, having given up his criminal ways in order to raise those three girls (cue the "My Three Sons" theme music) while also trying to start his own jam and jelly business. Things seem to look up a bit when he's kidnapped by Anti Villain League agent Lucy (voiced by a returning Kristen Wiig, albeit in a different character this time around) and taken to HQ to get his assignment to find the serum-happy villain.

That leads to undercover work at a mall where he believes that a Mexican restaurateur (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) might not only be the culprit, but also a former and long-believed-to-be-dead super villain in hiding. That would seem to offer plenty of opportunity for returning scribes Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio to have fun letting Gru tap into his former notoriety to get the job done. Yet, they seem more interested in following the budding love angle between him and Lucy as well as him being nervous about a teenage boy putting the moves on his oldest daughter. Yes, all of that's an extension from the first film showing that the villain actually had a heart, but it just feels, well, rather mediocre here.

There are various chuckles and smiles to be had from that material, but returning directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud clearly glean more success from the minion-based comedy elements. And savvy viewers will certainly have a field day spotting all of the cultural and movie references the filmmakers have placed throughout this 98-some minute film (most of which will go over many adults and certainly nearly all of the kids' heads). The vibrantly colorful computer animated visuals are as strong as before and all of the vocal work is spot on, and the film certainly moves along at a brisk pace.

I just wish the protagonist and the overall plot involving him were as enjoyable, funny and inventive as the various minion bits. Still entertaining for the young ones but a bit less so for adults than the first time around, "Despicable Me 2" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 27, 2013 / Posted July 3, 2013

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