DESPICABLE ME 2

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C

2010’s “Despicable Me” proved a moderately amusing 3D-animated kidflick, with Steve Carell doing a goofy accent as Gru, the self-styled super-villain who tried to outdo his rival by stealing the moon. But in the process he was sidetracked by three adorable little girls, to whom he became a surrogate daddy, and his nastiness quickly degenerated—along with the picture’s—into a clammy sweetness by the close.

That unfortunate state of affairs is further advanced in this sequel, which was written by the same duo who penned its predecessor but seem at a total loss as to how to continue the spiel. Their solution is to build a ramshackle script around a comic spy story, which was a stale idea when it was used in “Cars 2” (a movie that should have given them pause) and comes off just as badly here. One would have thought that Carell might have been warned off the premise by his lame “Get Smart” remake, which you’re also reminded of by Gru’s romance with a goofy female colleague named Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). But they’ve all plowed ahead with the scenario, making room for plenty of “Bachelor Father” interludes with the girls and even more slapstick scenes featuring the Minions, the squeaky-voiced, nonsense-spouting little somethings that were the unquestionable hits of the initial installment and are highlighted this time around in intrusive, often digressive sketches so numerous that they almost take over the entire picture. (The intent is doubtlessly to pave the way for a movie and television series of their own.)

The basic plot has Gru, whose plan to distribute a new line of jams and jellies formulated by his associate Dr. Nefario (Russell Banks) falls apart, recruited by a super-spy agency called the Anti-Villain League headed by the officious Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan). His mission is to discover the identity of a mastermind who has made off with a serum that can transform benign creatures into ferocious beasts. The agency has tracked the villain to a shopping mall whose shopowners become suspects, and eventually Gru identifies Mexican restaurateur Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt) as a dastardly fellow who uses the nom de crime El Macho when engaged in nefarious deeds. But the fact that El Macho is supposedly dead leads Ramsbottom to discount Gru’s intuition. To add to Gru’s discomfort, his eldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) falls for the restaurant-owner’s slick son Antonio (Moises Arias), setting off his paternal protectionism. Naturally the Minions fit into the last act, since they’re the critters that the villain intends to infect with the terrible serum he’s stolen.

The youngsters who’ve watched the original “Despicable Me” to death will probably embrace this sequel with equal enthusiasm and turn it into a substantial hit, not only in theatres but in later ancillary formats. But though kids may enjoy it, it’s a cluttered, misshapen piece of work, cobbled together in a way that suggests a kind of desperation—or, when it comes to the extensive footage given to the Minions, crude calculation. The animation is fine, of course—one can take that as a given in these computer-driven days. And the picture makes use of the 3D effects in predictable ways that will still be effective as far as family audiences are concerned.

But the voice work leaves a good deal to be desired. Carell frankly sounds tired, and Wiig is encouraged to be so shrilly broad in her delivery that Lucy quickly becomes annoying rather than lovable. Coogan and Brand are surprisingly anonymous. And while Bratt is certainly enthusiastic, one can’t help but agree with Al Pacino, who reportedly left the role of Eduardo citing “creative differences,” that the movie was headed in a wrong direction.

Even the title no longer makes sense. Gru is no longer despicable—he’s (ugh!) positively lovable. Should it be called “Not Despicable Me Anymore,” or “Despicable Him”? Whatever the case, it certainly shouldn’t be called a worthy sequel to the amiable original.