The Nut Job (2014)

The Nut JobReleased: January 17, 2014. Directed by: Peter Lepeniotis. Starring: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson. Runtime: 85 min.

Apparently, it takes three writers, two to write the screenplay and one to think of the story, to write a really bad animated movie tailored mostly for the kids’ enjoyment. There’s three mildly amusing laughs, but that’s about it for the laughs for anyone over the age of 10, unless one of your comedy weaknesses is squirrels farting. “The Nut Job” follows the adventures of Surly the squirrel (Will Arnett) who, after destroying the city park’s food supply for the winter, is banished to the scary city. He is not alone, as he is accompanied by his best friend, a mute rat named Buddy. With luck on their side, they find a Nut store (and arbitrarily start to dance to Psy’s “Gagnam Style,” where you have to wonder how they’re hearing the music) where there’s enough nuts to feed the park for many winters to come. But that’s only if Surly is gonna share! He enlists the help of his acquaintances (because he’s too cool to have more than one friend; one at a time, friends and neighbours) to rob the store of their nut supply.

Dancing aimlessly to music they're not really hearing

Dancing aimlessly to music they’re not really hearing

The premise is designed in a way that might appeal to adults, because, hey, it’s a still a heist film. It’s handled poorly with dumb humour and too many nut puns, like “Hey, don’t go nuts on me,” crap like that. This is sort-of like the premise of “Over the Hedge,” because these are both films about a group of wild animals collecting food, and there’s a character here that’s a mix between Steve Carrell’s Hammy and the adorable lemur from the “Madagascar” franchise. This is such a poor movie because it’s, underneath it all, partly an uncharismatic, full-length version of the Scrat character before each “Ice Age” film. And for this to have any sort-of critical access, I think it’s important that the main protagonist isn’t entirely unlikable.

"We're gonna starve!"

“We’re gonna starve!”

Surly’s personality completely matches the name he’s given; he’s mean and whenever he seems to be opening up, he gets pissed off and pushes the person away. That might be because of vulnerability and the fear of being hurt, but he comes off as a selfish prick and I don’t know why anyone would want to watch any film depicting this character. He’s just uncharismatic and he’s all about himself, it’s just not a fun attitude to watch. Sharing is caring, Surly, you idiot.  Will Arnett’s voice performance is rather bland as him, as if he’s sort-of phoning it in. If you want to experience his voice work, just see his work as Batman in “The Lego Movie” instead. Katherine Heigl is unremarkable as her character Andi. Liam Neeson is okay as Raccoon, the leader of the park animals in New York. Brendan Fraser is trying too hard in a bland sort-of way as Grayson, the squirrel that the parks sees as the hero; and Grayson is too stupid to realize he’s a scaredy cat. Maya Rudolph has an energy in her voice work that brings something partly tolerable to the film. Still not very funny, but not completely awful. She plays a pug owned by the people who own the nut shop.

The film’s animation is the one redeeming quality. Funny thing, it has a look where in the background there are lines that come down and across that look as if the characters are in a dome, like that scene in “Scooby Doo and the Cyber Chase” when the world they’re in becomes vibrant and shows the lines around them, that they’re not yet home. If you know what I mean, maybe I’m just seeing things, it’s noticeable (did anyone else see it?) – and it seemed to have a post-production quality of animation, like it was almost completed but not quite, but the filmmakers said anyway, “Good enough, ship it off to theatres.”

The characters are completed, and the backgrounds are pretty nice, but it seems like they forgot to erase the lines in the background. One thing that is strange is the colour choice of the main character; a purple squirrel? Granted, it’s colourful and it’ll catch the kid’s attention, but boy does it not make sense. Maybe he fell into a can with purple paint and it didn’t get the stain out entirely? Maybe he couldn’t hook up with enough squirrel biddies and got the sister version of blue balls? Purple balls? Get it? Oh, there’s a clever animated sequence during the credits featuring the animaetd version of a popular singer in the end credits singing a popular and upbeat song. It confirms the filmmaker’s insecurities with their own film, shoving in a song that doesn’t have much to do with the film, only to convince you that you had one hell of a good time.

By the way, the people who own the nut shop but it for a heist of their own. They’re digging a tunnel in the basement to the bank supposedly nearby, “The Ladykillers”style. They’re the usual stupid henchmen and random boss you see in animated thug movies. There’s one henchy who is all mysterious and cringes when he hears a dog whistle; which is strange because it never gets explained why his hearing is so hyperactive enough to hear it. Anyway, it makes sense that they’d buy a nut shop; because the only people would walk into the nut shop are those who would ask: “Why do you own a store that only sells nuts?” No one’s going to go in there; alternatively they could have just ran a VCR repair shop. The film wouldn’t happen if that were the case, but that’s not such a bad thing. Mostly because this is a really bad movie. The characters are so lame, you’re probably going to root for starvation to win.

Score25/100

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January 31 to February 2 Box Office Predictions

The two films being released the last weekend of January is “Labor Day” and “That Awkward Moment.”

The idea of a film called Labor Day being released in January is a bit of a funny idea. At 2584 theatres, this is the widest initial release for any Jason Reitman film yet. Similar films debut at $9.7 million. I doubt this film will hit double digits this weekend – I saw it yesterday, and I wasn’t a big fan of it. My review will be posted late Friday or Saturday. This is starting the February romantic craze two weeks early before Valentine’s Day, but I wonder how many are in the romantic mood. Anyway, my prediction for this is $7.7 million.

But if people are in the romantic mood, I think “That Awkward Moment” might be a better date night choice. It looks funny and it’s about relationships where people are in that state where they ask “Where’s this going?” It seems like one of those “The do’s and do not’s of dating” sort-of flicks. I’m sold on the cast, practically, well three out of four of them – I like Efron, and Michael B. Jordan especially – I still have to see him in “Fruitvale Station”, though – and Imogen Poots is good, she’s one of the only things I liked about “All is By My Side.” I’m undecided about Miles Teller, but I’ve only seen him in “Project X” and “21 & Over,” and since I hated both of those – I’ve only seen Teller work with shitty material. I might have to wait to see “The Spectacular Now” to form a stronger opinion about him. Anyway, films similar to this open at $13.7 million. What I’m curious about is, will this open closer to “21 and Over’s” $8.7 million, or “Project X’s” $21 million? Since it has Zac Efron, I think it’ll open to $18.3 million.

As for as the first holdover for “I Frankenstein,” I think it’s likely it’ll drop at least 50%, probably more like 57% since when it grosses such a low number – at $8.6 million – it usually just shuffles out of theatres. It seems to me that it will be in its second-rate theatre run by February 7th, depending on how it does this weekend. But if you want to see it in theatres, I’d get on it!

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. “That Awkward Moment”: $17.3 million
2. “Ride Along”: $13.4 million
3. “The Nut Job”: $8.3
4. “Lone Survivor”: $8.2 million
5. “Labor Day”: $7.7 million
6. “Frozen“: $7.3 million
7. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”: $6.3 million
8. “American Hustle“: $5.3 million
9. “I, Frankenstein”: $4.9 million
10. “The Wolf of Wall Street“: $4.5 million