The Nut Job (2014) / Animation-Comedy
MPAA rated : PG for mild violence and crude humor
Running time: 85 min.
Cast (voices): Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Dunham, Gabriel Iglesias
Small role (voice): Psy
Director: Peter Lepeniotis
Screenplay: Lorne Cameron, Peter Lepeniotis
Review published January 21, 2014
The Nut Job is a wholly disposable CGI-animated feature that delivers on colorful (if not terribly likeable) characters and lots of spastic energy to entertain the kids, but it will be likely all just a vague memory in the mind within hours after seeing it.
Will Arnett (Despicable Me, Horton Hears a Who) voices the main character, a do-for-self squirrel named Surly who works in cahoots with his BFF, a rat named Buddy, to grab as much food as they can from a nut vendor in their park to be able to make it through the harsh winter ahead. The animals in the park are led by a raccoon named, of course, Raccoon (Neeson, Battleship), who has informed them that they are running low on their food supply and need to find more if they all want to make it, and now they're encroaching on Surly's plans. They hope Surly will help the community, but he doesn't do anything for anyone but himself, and the entire operation gets destroyed along with the park's supply, after which he is banished from the cushy park existence to live a harsh life out in the city.
Things seem bleak until Surly discovers a store that sells nothing but nuts (and product placements), not knowing that the place is just a front for some local gangsters to use in order to tunnel into the bank vault nearby. While the animals try to dig into the nut stash, the gangsters are digging for their loot, and soon the two worlds collide in a very dangerous way.
There's very little in terms of wit to the writing, which is credited to Lorne Cameron, who also helped pen the strikingly similar (and vastly better) Over the Hedge. It gets mileage out of potty humor and slapstick substituting for actual gags in order to try to keep the kiddies engaged. Don't be surprised if the flatulent groundhogs are the only things your kids are amused by. The film is heavy on plot and subplots, because complications are necessary to take this thin story premise and try to stretch it out over the course of an hour and a half.
In addition to the scantiness of interesting story, the animation is average at best, and looks about on par with the 3D animated features that came out about 10 years ago. Director Peter Lepeniotis (Gotta Catch Santa Claus), who is expanding this film from a short film he did back in 2005 (called, "Surly Squirrel"), puts his emphasis on always keeping things moving, which is a good thing to do in an old-fashioned heist film (the gangsters seem modeled after the ones you might find in 1942's Larceny Inc., which features a nearly identical plot), but its lack of focus and derivativeness don't pay off for those who actually bother to try to follow the storyline.
The film, which is animated in South Korea, features one of the more odd post-credits extras in recent memory. An animated version of South Korean rapper/entertainer Psy is shown on the screen, dancing and singing Psy's international novelty hit, "Gangnam Style", which, outside of one instance of the instrumental portion earlier in the movie as part of the soundtrack, has nothing to do with the rest of the film.
I would call The Nut Job as a "distract the kids for 90 minutes" kind of film, but it's all in a junk-food kind of way, and certainly holds very little sustenance for anyone over the age of, say, 10 or 11. It will likely drive anyone else nuts.
©2014 Vince Leo