Despite boasting a title that sounds like it may be about some arcane sex act, The Nut Job is your standard issue in-the-bleak-midwinter animated kiddie movie. In its favor, it is not Devil’s Due. It is also — apart from an unusually high fixation on flatulence-humor — mostly innocuous, which does not, unfortunately, prevent it from being predictable and tedious. Of course, it wasn’t aimed at me, but in all fairness, there was no shortage of its target audience at the showing I attended, and they were not laughing much. For that matter, one young audience member decided that stamping his feet on the floor in some kind of outbreak of rhythm was more entertaining. That boy may have a future in movie criticism.
It isn’t that The Nut Job is badly made or even actively bad. It’s just passively mediocre and hampered by a main character — a surly squirrel named Surly (Will Arnett) — who is neither likable, nor interesting. Surly is the park troublemaker. He’s also completely self-centered and self-serving (kind of a rodent Libertarian). So when he accidentally destroys the park’s entire winter food supply, he finds himself banished to The City, with only his slow-witted rat buddy (who he constantly abuses) for company. It’s really a stretch to care — even when Surly finds himself menaced by nasty city rats and has to be saved by his nice rat friend. All of this is pretty plodding stuff. Once the actual plot — the plan to rob Maury’s Nut Store — kicks in, it’s still pretty plodding, but at least it’s going somewhere.
Most of the film — which is filled with too much underdeveloped plot — is about robbing this store. The store itself is a front for bank robbers who, somewhat mystifyingly, plan on replacing the bank’s bags of money (the movie has a quaint idea of banking) with bags of nuts. Surly — unwillingly partnered with the park’s interested parties — is, of course, out for himself. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone, the park’s head honcho — an unctuous raccoon voiced by Liam Neeson — is a low-life dictator who keeps the other animals hungry in order to control them. And beyond this … look, do you really care about this plot? It’s all just a pretense for not-very-funny gags and the usual life lessons (with possible socialist overtones, if you want to look for them).
The strange thing is that a lot of trouble has been gone to in the design of the film and its retro 1950s look. I mean it all looks like somebody really cared about the movie. Problem is nobody seems to have cared much about script, story or, for that matter, the voice performances, most of which are lethargic. (Brendan Fraser seems to be in the right spirit, but everyone else is in full paycheck mode.) The animation is certainly good — its depiction of water is really first-rate — but it’s not in the service of anything much worth watching. But, hey, it’s better than Devil’s Due — at least till the ending credits where an animated Psy shows up to dance to that irritating Gangnam song. Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.
Playing at Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher.