After an awful opening (actually, it’s exactly that damned original trailer with the grotesque American tourists at the pyramid), Despicable Me turns into moderately boring fare for about 10 minutes before climbing to the heights of OK-dom with flashes of inspiration. While the flashes of inspiration are appreciated, they also make the film’s otherwise mere adequacy all the more disappointing. Still, Despicable Me is not unlikable, though I strongly suspect it’s going to evaporate from my mind very quickly. Even now, the only solid laugh I remember having was due to a gag about the former name of the Bank of Evil (you’ll know when you see it), though I know I laughed at other now-forgotten sequences.
The plot is of the well-worn variety—what studios tend to think of as “classic” or “tried and true,” impressions that are strengthened for the studios every time the Pavlovian public plunks the purchase price down at the ticket window. Criminal mastermind (at least in his own mind) Gru (Steve Carell) finds his reputation for perfidy undermined by new mastermind on the block Vector (Jason Segel). To regain his standing, Gru plots to steal the moon—assuming the Bank of Evil will finance him (shades of Victor Spinetti in Help! (1965), who is “out to rule the world, if he can get a government grant”). Said financing requires him acquiring a shrink ray, which has ended up in Vector’s possession.
Discovering that Vector has ordered a bunch of cookies from three adorable orphan girls—Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher)—Gru decides to adopt the trio to gain access to Vector’s lair. This being the movies and the orphanage being headed up by a woman, Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig), who seems to be part social worker and part Fagin, this is handily accomplished. Of course, Gru hasn’t reckoned on the girls themselves, who don’t submit to being treated like dogs (literally, since Gru thinks they can be paper-trained) and who, of course, worm their way into his heart.
What makes a film like this work or fail usually lies in the details. Family fare isn’t known for complex plotting. Despicable Me is kind of a mixed bag in that regard. Gru’s minions—called minions—look like Cheetos with facial features and are cute enough. His resident evil scientist, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), appears to be modeled after British character actor Peter Vaughan (Uncle Alfie in the British Death at a Funeral) and is reasonably funny. The girls are winning presences, too. Julie Andrews seems to be enjoying her role as the voice of Gru’s mom, but she hasn’t enough to do. Carell’s Gru is the film’s strongest point. His asides and mood swings are entertaining, though I don’t see his value in terms of that magic word: “franchise.”
All in all, the film is OK as family fare—at least it qualifies as family fare rather than kiddie fare. Ironically, Despicable Me—a film designed for and shot for 3-D—has run into the wall of 3-D overload, at least on a local basis. With Toy Story 3 and The Last Airbender hogging the 3-D screens, only two Asheville screens (the Beaucatcher and Biltmore Grande) have it in 3-D format. Personally, I’m good with that, but it does render the whole ending-credits sequence somewhere near incomprehensible, since it’s designed to show off the effect. Rated PG for rude humor and mild action.