Producers: Rebecca Huntley and Damon Ross Director: Pierre Perifel Screenplay: Etan Cohen Cast: Sam Rockwell, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Richard Ayoade, Alex Borstein and Lilly Singh Distributor: Universal Pictures
Since 2015 Australian Aaron Blabey has amused young fans with his series of children’s graphic novels about a bunch of animals trying to dispel their criminal reputations by performing good deeds that usually turn out badly. This adaptation by Etan Cohen and Pierre Perifel—clearly designed as an “Ocean’s 11” for kids—fails to match the best DreamWorks Animation movies, but is better than many of them—hardly a ringing endorsement, but given that Cohen was responsible for 2018’s atrocious “Holmes & Watson,” a blessing of sorts.
As “The Bad Guys” begins, smooth gang leader Mr. Wolf, who refers to himself as Big Bad (voiced by Sam Rockwell), and his lieutenant safe-cracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron) are chatting in a diner, waiting to embark on their next bank robbery. Much to the distress of police chief Luggins (Alex Borstein), the duo makes off with the loot, their elaborate getaway in Wolf’s muscle car aided at various stages by their cohorts—volcanic Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), goofy master of disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) and dedicated computer whiz Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina).
The gang’s uninterrupted series of successful heists is ended, though, when Wolf is goaded by Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) into attempting an “impossible” job—the theft of an award being presented to Professor Rupert Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a rich, idealistic guinea pig, in recognition of his many philanthropic activities. The elaborate operation at a museum jammed with elite guests goes awry, and the gang is captured. But Fox manipulates Marmalade into suggesting that they should be released into his custody so that he can teach them to do good rather than keep to their ingrained ways.
That results in some amusing sequences, like an attempt to rescue an adorable kitten stuck in a tree, but also too much material that’s way too conventional and familiar. The frequent recourse to fart humor—which is even made a key plot device—plays dismally to kids’ love of potty jokes, and the revelation of the true character of Marmalade will pose no surprise even to the younger set. (Can you really ever trust a guy called professor who sports an English accent?) And there’s a swarming army of hypnotized guinea pigs, beating the arrival of a new Minions movie by a couple of months.
Then there are the car chases. They’re so absurdly frequent and prolonged that at times you might think you were watching an animated “Fast and Furious” installment. Of course, budgeting exigencies mean that they always occur on streets that are curiously empty except for pursuers and pursued. (Indeed, except when absolutely necessary—the opening bank heist, the awards ceremony—the piece is pretty much devoid of “extras,” unless you count those guinea pigs.)
Otherwise, though, the animation is spiffy and colorful enough, and the characterizations reasonably engaging. The voice work is more than agreeable, with Rockwell bringing a George Clooney vibe to Big Bad and Ayoade charmingly unctuous; but in fact all the “stars” do nice jobs, though Borstein’s huffing and puffing gets more than a mite irritating. John Venzon’s editing keeps things moving along, despite the overdrawn chase sequences, and Daniel Pemberton’s score is zesty.
“Guys” isn’t really bad, but it isn’t especially good either; like so many animated family movies, it falls into the mediocre middle. But it’s probably energetic enough to satisfy the small fry, even if it won’t enthrall their parents.