The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Nut Job

I remember very clearly seeing the trailer for 2014's The Nut Job. I remember laughing out loud -- in a good way -- at the premise, so ridiculous sounding it had to be a spoof trailer, right? Right?!? But no, it wasn't. This was an animated heist movie....with animals. How could that not work? It just has to work on basically all levels. It just has to!!!

In the small city of Oakton, a beautiful little park with plenty of trees and creeks and rolling hills sits in the middle of the downtown area. All the animals that live there are prepping for a fast-approaching winter, the group led by Raccoon (voice of Liam Neeson) who's doing his best to help organize all the available food. A rebellious squirrel, Surly (voice of Will Arnett), is working on his own though to store up for winter, even finding a nut store near the park that will keep him fat and full all winter. Now, he's just got to find a way in without being caught. Raccoon catches wind of his plan and sends two brave squirrels, Grayson (Brendan Fraser) and Andie (Katherine Heigl), after Surly to see what he's up to. There's more to it though. A lot more. Something is going on inside the nut store that none of them had planned on.

Here we sit again. I feel absolutely ridiculous writing a plot description for an animated movie. At that, an animated movie about squirrels, mice, rats, groundhogs, a mole, and a power-hungry raccoon joining forces to rob a nut store. At the same time, that premise alone gets some points. This 2014 animated flick was backed by South Korean studios and did pretty well in theaters, earning over $76 million this winter, director Peter Lepeniotis' movie more than earning back its budget. I mildly liked it, but I wanted to love it. There are some laughs but not enough, and the story is lacking something. Maybe Pixar has just ruined things for everyone with all their unique, original, innovative ideas.

What does work? I loved the visual. Though it's never dealt with directly, 'Job' has the look of the 1950s as if the story took place in a little American town. It reminded me of so many classic Looney Tunes cartoons that I grew up watching. What exactly do Surly and Co. stumble into while trying to rob the nut store? They find themselves working around a gangster, King (voice of Stephen Lang), and his cronies trying to rob a nearby bank by tunneling in. That premise reminded me of several Looney Tunes adventures, Bugs Bunny working against some dimwitted gangsters doing their best James Cagney impersonations. While the animation has that crisp, clear look we've come to expect out of modern animated movies -- thanks again, Pixar -- there is also that throwback feel to the animation. It's colorful and detailed right down to the background and characters. It all adds up to a nice animated package.

What doesn't work? I came away disappointed with the voice work here. Will Arnett does his best as Surly the squirrel, but there aren't too many animated movies out there where the main character is so unsympathetic. He's mean, kinda a bully, and generally not very likable. Surly has his moments -- most with his mute sidekick, a mouse -- but I didn't like the character. Heigl is okay as Andie, the squirrel love interest. Fraser hams it up as the overly heroic and slightly nuts Grayson, but I didn't even realize it was Fraser, requiring a look-up. Neeson is cool because it's freaking Liam Neeson voicing an evil raccoon. The rest of the nut job heist crew include Precious (Maya Rudolph), a pug who teams up with Surly, Mole (comedian Jeff Dunham), the blind, dimwitted mole, Jimmy (Gabriel Iglesias), Johnny (Joe Pingue) and Jamie (Annick Obonsawin), a trio of groundhogs. It sounds cute, but in the end, it's just sorta meh.

So in the end, I think the idea is far better than the execution here. I really, really liked the premise, but as the story developed, it never really grabbed me and pulled me in. The potential was certainly there, but 'Job' doesn't pay off unfortunately. And let me tell you, I wanted it to pay off. It's a heist movie with animals for goodness sake!!! That has to be awesome, right?!?

That said, there is a quasi-saving grace in the finale. I wonder if the studio behind 'Job' has a hand in the studio behind musical artist Psy, known for his unbelievably catchy dance song Gagnam Style. Listen HERE. One of my favorite early scenes has Surly and his sidekick, Mouse, dancing in celebration to Psy's song. It's not the Gagnam Style dance, but it's funny. Very funny. The highlight for me was in the end credits, an animated Psy dancing as the credits roll, all the characters -- both humans and animals -- dancing along with him. It's gimmicky, a tad forced, pretty ridiculous, and it is FUNNY. It works, simple as that. Watch it HERE. Yeah, I'm a cheap date. It doesn't take much to entertain me.

The Nut Job (2014): **/****

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