Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: After securing a lifetime’s supply of food from the local Nut Shop, Surly the squirrel (Will Arnett) and his woodland friends are living a secure but laidback life. However, when the Nut Shop explodes and the gang are left short of food once again, they come to head-to-head with Mayor Muldoon (Bobby Moynihan), who plans on turning the local park into an income-generating amusement park. If Surly and his friends want to keep their new home in the park, they’ll have to work together in order to stop Muldoon.

Will Arnett continues to be a good fit for the rather off-putting main character he’s given, but his personality still hasn’t gotten much further than ‘If it wasn’t for blind luck, I’d have been dead several times over by now’. Katherine Heigl is still serving as the supposed voice of reason to Surly’s antics, but between the limp delivery and the fact that her character has zero dimensions to her (a recurring trend with this entire film, I assure you), she exists solely to be proven wrong even more so than Surly.

Maya Rudolph actually makes use of her character as the pug Precious, with her scene opposite Bobby Cannavale as the main villain’s dog Frankie resulting in some of the rare few decent moments to be found in this feature. Jackie Chan makes me weep yet again that he’s stuck doing bargain-bin-level dreck like this, Bobby Moynihan does fine with the painfully-thin antagonist he’s saddled with, Isabela Moner as his daughter feels like she’s been snatched out of a completely different (and possibly better) movie, and Peter Stormare as a psychotic animal control officer isn’t even one-tenth as gloriously insane as that sounds. Again, a recurring trend with this whole production.

Speaking of production, there’s an awful lot to be discussed as far as how technically-dodgy this thing is. Animation studio ToonBox Entertainment continues their track record from the previous Nut Job film with some incredibly dodgy-looking CGI. The texture quality itself is passable but… honestly, I’m not even sure what it is about the visuals that make them this unappealing to look at, but that is undeniably the effect we get. This isn’t helped by how, in addition to looking off, it also sounds remarkably off as well. Part of that is down to the voice acting, which despite the colourful cast list largely fails to register all that highly, but there’s also the sound mixing at work as well. I honestly haven’t seen that many animated films on the big screen that are this haphazard with the audio, to the point where quite a few dialogue scenes are undercut by how the dialogue itself is literally cut underneath all the sound effects and even the soundtrack. It should be a welcome reprieve from the incredibly lame puns at work in the script, but I also shouldn’t have to strain this much to even hear them in the first place.
There’s also how the soundtrack sucks on toast as well, using the classic tune Born To Be Wild in a way that is both painfully obvious in terms of choice as well as being played in its entirety on more than one occasion to make the original song feel tired. Not even Married With Children overplayed that song as much as this. Oh, and the less said about Uptown Funk's bastard child of a theme song with Let’s Get Nuts, the better.

Along with the many other things that carry from the first film (the off-putting animation quality, the weak acting, the reliance on weak wordplay for its jokes), the big carry-over is that lingering feeling that this film should be making a bigger impact than it actually does. I mean, the trailer promised us wild animals tearing down ferris wheels and blowing up popcorn stands; this should get by on Rule Of Cool, right? Well, we don’t quite get that here either. As bombastic as the chase scenes can get, and there’s some definite creativity to be found in the individual set pieces, it suffers from a distinct lack of restraint. We aren’t given any real moments to drink in what’s happening, so a lot of it ends up going in one eye and out the other. It’s honestly the same problem as a lot of Michael Bay action movies, where the need to keep the audience’s attention goes so overboard that the visual overload ends up paradoxically losing the audience’s attention.
And it didn’t have to be this way! As plain as the characters are, particularly the antagonists who are characterised so flatly you’d swear that they escaped the cutting room floor of a Captain Planet episode, there’s at least some fun to be had in how unashamedly evil they are. Not nearly enough and at not nearly enough of a consistent rate, but there is something here.

This is insanely cynical for a kid’s film. Not cynical in terms of “understanding” what audiences want to see, like with last year’s trainwreck The Emoji Movie, but cynical in terms of character attitudes and overall tone. It starts out on a note that, after securing the Nut Shop in the previous film, the animals are growing too complacent with their surroundings and becoming lazy. “If you want something, you have to work for it” is the general tone of the film, embodied through how Surly would much rather just take it easy than actually have to work to maintain his lifestyle. However, let’s take that main conceit and apply to the film proper… and it’s here where the real issue with this thing presents itself.

Aside from the usual blandness that passes for humour in this series, there’s quite a lot of dialogue expressly intended to put certain characters ‘in their place’. Andie ends up telling Surly to his face that “you’re not as funny as you think you are”. There’s a lot of head-crushing irony in lines like this, but it also highlights a very real hypocrisy at the heart of the film. For all its talk of leading by example and how preserving one’s livelihood involves working hard for it, this film shows an absolute lack of willing to practice what it preaches. It comes across like a guy sleeping half-naked on a park bench, face still stained with ketchup from the previous night’s hot dogs, and then getting up just to tell the guy running the hot dog stand that he’s not doing his job right. That’s what I mean by cynical in this instance: Assuming that everyone has to do their part, so long as “everyone” doesn’t actually include yourself. We have enough problems with people failing to do their bit for society as it is; we don’t need films like this setting that precedent for the next generation.

All in all… have to admit, I was honestly hoping for something good just based on the trailer. I have a certain affinity for bonkers cinema and, between the avalanche of kung-fu mice and the mass destruction of amusement park attraction, I thought this could skate by on that alone. But unfortunately, between the weak writing, even weaker acting, and Weak Triumphant production values, this film makes it incredibly frustrating to enjoy on any real level. There are moments that could have worked if separated from the whole, like the scenes between Surly and Buddy or the romance between Precious and Frankie (or ‘Frecious’ as they call themselves, because apparently even the better parts need to fail somehow), but the production in its entirety leaves little to nothing of any real value to latch onto. And just to make things worse, this film was internationally distributed by The Weinstein Company… you know, just in case this whole mess wasn’t depressing enough on its own.

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