Not Much to Crunch on in Forgettable Nut Job
- Friday, January 17, 2014
Release Date: January 17, 2014
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Run Time: 86 minutes
Director: Peter Lepeniotis
Cast: Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser, Maya Rudolph, Stephen Lang, Jeff Dunham, Sarah Gadon
Forget the popcorn; the perfect snack for this movie is a bowl of cereal. That's because The Nut Job is what Saturday morning cartoons would have been back in the day… if they had been an hour and a half long and available in 3D.
Times are hard in a city park that's home to a mixed group of animals. No matter how hard they all work together to store up food for the winter, there's just not enough. Oh wait, did I say "all" work together? Make that all except Surly (Will Arnett, The Secret World of Arrietty), a scrappy squirrel who lives up to his name. He's very much an "every animal for himself" kind of guy who blows off the park's democratic policies to stuff his own furry face. That makes him the archenemy of the park's citizenry, especially their leader Raccoon (Liam Neeson, Taken). The only one who sees any good in Surly is Andie (Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up), a pretty red squirrel who tries to break through Surly's tough guy exterior while fending off the unwanted advances of dimwitted park hero Grayson (Brendan Fraser, Escape from Planet Earth).
After Surly's latest escapade—a plan worthy of Wile E. Coyote and about as successful—results in the loss of the park's entire pantry, he's banished to the mean streets of the city. Dangers abound, but Surly stumbles across squirrel heaven in the guise of a nut shop. Together with his goofy (but devoted) sidekick, a rat named Buddy, Surly braves a maze of traps and the not-so-vicious guard dog, a pug named Precious (Maya Rudolph, Turbo). Ah, life is good, but... just what are those pinstripe-suited tough guys doing in the basement of a nut store?
Will Surly keep all the bounty for himself or can Andie persuade him to share with the starving animals he left behind? Who is the real villain here? There will be crosses and double-crosses, twists and turns before justice is served (with a side of nuts, of course).
While there is a half-hearted attempt to impart lessons on sharing and why it's not always important to take the credit even when it's due, The Nut Job is mostly just played for laughs. Fortunately, there are plenty of those to be had. Visual gags abound, the number of fart jokes is kept to a reasonable minimum, and the actors all do a fine job of voicing their critter characters. A special shout out should go to Fraser for his Dudley Do-Right take on Grayson, whose matinee idol looks are about all he's got going. The award for Best Critter in a Non-Speaking Role definitely goes to Buddy the Rat, whose expressive face says it all.
Unlike many recent 3D films (Walking With Dinosaurs, for example), there's no attempt here to make The Nut Job's animals look realistic. This is a cartoon all the way, which really works in its favor. Bad guys are so much more fun as cartoon stereotypes; police stereotypes (think donuts), not quite so much. There's nothing too scary for the tiny kids, and parents should enjoy the comedy. Both generations, however, will probably have forgotten the whole movie by the time they get to the parking lot.
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