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“Minions” packs laughs despite uneven story

Kevin, Stuart and Bob hit the road in the all new Minion movie

Kevin, Stuart and Bob hit the road in the all new Minion movie

Ever since the first Despicable Me movie, viewers have gone nuts for those cute and naughty yellow creatures known as Minions. I do admit, I was really hooked as these supporting characters slapped each other around and that gibberish banter was very amusing. Well, they have a movie out and like many, I was really hyped. There were endless possibilities to what could be done. However, “Minions” seems to cater to the humor than put its cute, chaotic characters in a stronger story.

Set up as a prequel, the first 10 minutes are probably the best part as we see these yellow henchman walk on land and find themselves serving dinosaurs and cavemen and later historical icons from Napoleon to Count Dracula. Even if this appeared in the first trailer, these are the funniest moments of “Minions” as its starts off as a “History of the World: Part I” manner with these beings trying to serve a villain but sadly lose them in the process due to great misfortune or just because they mess things up.

Unfortunately, that is the start of the picture as the Minion clan seek refuge up north. But soon enough they find that without a master, they have no purpose to continue living. Our plot kicks in as three Minions named Kevin, Bob and Stuart (all voiced by Pierre Coffin) go out in the world to find a new boss. Along the way, we learn things like how they were able to obtain their signature overalls and appreciation for pop culture television. These scenes are cute alone as the three marveling at shopping malls and yellow fire hydrants. Perhaps more notable is a sequence similar to Modern Times when they stake out in a mall much like Chaplin’s Tramp did minus 1960s television and being a vehicle to find out where to find a new master.

Eventually they do get a new boss in the form of Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock) whose ultimate goal is to steal the crown from the Queen of England and be the new ruler. Scarlet herself is a lot of fun to watch as Bullock really hams up the performance going from a sweet and innocent mother-like tone to slowly showing her true colors near the climax. Its basically Cruel DeVille if she was a super villain but there is fun here. Also enjoyable is her husband Herb (Jon Hamm) whose beatnik personality is a delight to watch. Some of the quips are not too annoying to the point of cringing but his endless array of gadgets are very creative from lava lamp guns to mechanical arms that are put to good use.

Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm really "overkill" the hilarity as Scarlet and Herb Overkill

Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm really “overkill” the hilarity as Scarlet and Herb Overkill

As enjoyable as “Minions” gets to be, the true star of the film is not the animation or the Minions but rather the comedy. For those who miss the dark humor of the first Despicable Me won’t be disappointed. The tone can be described as a blend between something along the lines of the Marx Bros and a Charles Addams cartoon. Highlights include our three mischievous characters mistaking a torture dungeon for an amusement park, a funny shot of a line up of depressed Minions trying to visit a shrink and some notable moments in a villain convention. This movie is packed with many sight gags that a second viewing would be required to hand pick every sign and Easter egg the animator’s stuck in.

Even a little British humor is injected along with the culture itself with endless 1960s pop culture jokes (as the film is set during 1968 as a time period) including a cute parody of the Beatles “Abby Road” album at one point. Even Queen Elizabeth II is not all she’s cracked up to be fooling viewers into thinking we will see a British stereotype when we see her royal majesty can be quite the fighter. In a sense, British pop culture seems to be such a bigger focus for the second half with elements like the King Arthur legend and some British rock tunes play a crucial part in the story and comedy.

Unfortunately, at the heart of “Minions” lacks a story. Kevin, Stuart and Bob get bounced around so much that we find ourselves wondering what is the main story. We go from an origin tale to a fish out of water to a robbery heist as it all builds to a finale that is fun but a tad fatigued. Maybe there is only so much one can handle of that Minion gibberish that one wonders how their shtick can pad out a 90 minute movie. Perhaps if the film played out more like its beginning as an anthology story with the little guys going from one master to the next, there could be some promise.

However, “Minions” is not that kind of movie. Even far from being considered a bad flick. It works better as a mindless comedy and this where my recommendation lies in. If your looking for a film with fast-paced action and really funny jokes, this is worth checking out. On the other hand, there have been mindless comedies before like “One Crazy Summer” and “UHF” that are able to balance a story  with a string of bizarre but funny gags. The humor of “Minions” is in the right spot but it left me wishing more was done in the narrative that keeps jumping around. But when there is effort placed in the animation, humor and voice performances, I can’t deny this movie gave me what I wanted and that’s a good laugh.

Rental Corner: “Hop” dull and lifeless despite bright visuals

One of these things is not like the other...everything else is a delightful treat that this movie isn't

One of these things is not like the other…everything else is a delightful treat that this movie isn’t

This review opens up with a viewer beware because there is no other “holiday” movie I can think of aside from “The Nutcracker Prince” or “Valentine’s Day” that feels like a complete cash cow. Even Christmas movies have more dignity with nice pretty lights and try to maintain a message even when its bogged down by cliches and boring characters. So imagine how unsurprising I felt when I decided to examine “Hop” after four years of avoiding it like the plague. This little relic comes from a time when film makers were desperate to find a childhood icon like the Tooth Fairy and make a movie out of it. A simple fantasy icon that would get bloated into a slew and slay of pop culture jokes and pandering to the younger crowd. I want to say there is something worse than this movie in terms of what it does, but frankly I can’t think of one on the spot.

Easter gets the “Santa Clause” treatment here as the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) hides away on Easter Island where under all those Moai statues is a bright and colorful factor that looks like it was taken from a commercial for Wonka Candy products. I want to say its cleverly designed but I keep thinking to all the Hershey and Cadbury chocolates that get crafted in front of our eyes. The “Santa” treatment is pushed further with baby chicks for elves who make the candies along with the cute little hares that help out to even the iconic Bunny riding around in a makeshift sled pulled by a team of baby chicks. The “Santa Factor” is so forced that it feels unoriginal. Ever more confusing is a teleporter device that is introduced later proving the sled useless when you can just jump from Easter Island to California and even China in just a mil-second.

James Mardsen and Russell Brand are two slackers in search of a good script

James Mardsen and Russell Brand are two slackers in search of a good script

But all is not well as his son E. B. (voiced by Russell Brand) has dreams of being a core drummer than travel around the world and give out candy baskets. In pursuit of his dream, he goes to Hollywood to see his talent get known. Personally, I had mixed feelings in regards to Russell Brand’s performance. I don’t think he’s a bad actor considering he can do different voices but unfortunately, the only movie I can think of where he did this was for the mad scientist Dr. Nefario in Despicable Me. Next to the Minions, this old-bumbling scientist is one of my favorite characters from that movie and for a while, I didn’t think for once he was voiced by Brand. So there is proof he can be funny and do different characters but the same can’t be said as E. B. Throughout the whole movie, I keep hearing this over-aged rocker personality in a character that would have been more suited if it was voiced by someone younger say 13 or 14. The design of the character is better fitted that way and it feels weird to have Brand’s voice come out of his mouth considering he doesn’t do anything to fit the character aside from giving his own personality which doesn’t do much.

Quiet conveniently, he gets hit in a car accident by Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) who gives into his fake injury and takes the blame. As you can imagine, they both have a common trait as they constantly get viewed by their family as the lower berth and asked to get a real job. It also doesn’t help that Fred keeps on blowing every job opportunity just because the script says he needs to. I found no sympathy for this character and what form they tried to inject into doesn’t work. To describe the relationship between E. B. and Fred is akin to the manic ventures of Alivn and Dave from Alivin and the Chipmunks. Which is ironic seeing Tim Hill lends a direction and it shows with the typical staple of pop culture jokes and buffet of low-brow toilet humor just to keep the kids awake.

Hank Azaria does doubel voice duty as Carlos and Phill which feel like last minute add-ons than actual threats....

Hank Azaria does doubel voice duty as Carlos and Phill which feel like last minute add-ons than actual threats….

What form of conflict they have here doesn’t feel fleshed out. Hank Azaria feels added on as a last minute villain with the role of Carlos, a Hispanic accented Chick who is tired of being second banana and plans to take over the Easter holiday. With so much time devoted to E. B. roaming Hollywood, we care little of what happens as the evil spring chick plans to replace Easter goodies with worms and bird seed. But even then we don’t care what happens because of how lazy the script feels and how uninspired everything is. Carlos only exists because “Hop” needs a climax when it still builds to an unsatisfactory conclusion that feels scaled back and anti-climatic as a transformed Carlos tries to fly off but the action plays  safe by having it take place in the factory than do an actual risk.

And that’s the key phrase here, “playing it safe.” This movie doesn’t offer much new outside of being two cliched films for the price of one. By combining all three “Santa Clause” movies and fusing them with the tropes of an Adam Sandler movie, the end result is something that looks nice from time to time but the whole story and batch of characters we get are dull, cliched and feel more like cardboard cut-outs than dimensional characters. Its a shame because there are some unique ideas that could have lived up to potential like a ninja-like group the Easter Bunny has called the Pink Berets which are female bunnies with pink berets. There is an open possibility for making funny characters but all they do is act menacing and grunt a lot. There’s only four animated characters that talk while every other CGI being just resorts to cheeps and noises. Again, so much room to make characters for but instead feel like moving scenery than living things. Most of the time they feel more like Minion clones than actual animals.

So much good animation put to waste...literally. All that is missing is the Wonka logo here!

So much good animation put to waste…literally. All that is missing is the Wonka logo here!

I feel bad because the animation was done by Illumination Entertainment and their craft really shows here from the feather and fur textures to the composition of these fictional characters into live-action footage. However, the effect wears its welcome as we can tell James Marsden is not in a real set but blue-screened into a CGI background and most of the climax feels like a video game level than an adrenaline pumping finale. To say “Hop” is the next holiday classic for the Easter season is an insult to the eyes and ears of those who wish for something magical and astounding. I’d go as far to say its on par with the 2003 adaption of “The Cat in the Hat” where only the visuals look good but can’t support an under-cooked script. I want to say its a harmless feature but when the only image to take away is an Easter bunny defecating jelly beans to prove he’s magic, there’s really nothing else to say here except there are better alternatives than a soulless picture like this one. Keep this one out of the Easter basket and join me in the next blog post for some “better” alternatives. Trust me, they are far more unique than the pain that unfortunately exists here. And oddly enough, when “Hop” was released to home video, it came out one whole year after its theatrical debut to obviously tie in with the Easter holiday. In that time span, many forgot about it and claimed it to be a lost film. Personally, I feel its better that way.