A film review by Craig J. Koban July 15, 2010
2010, PG, 95 mins.
2010, PG, 95 mins.
With the voices of:
ME, a new computer animated film from Universal Films, has a character
that’s one pure bred baddie. Gru
(voiced by Steve Carell) is evil. Make
that very evil. Like
many terribly evil villains that do evil things, Gru is absolutely
convinced that the social atrocities that he commits are not evil. I would even go as far as to say that he likes, nah, loves
being a despicable man on a mission for global domination and world
consider, if you will: Gru drives a mammoth, steel plated auto that looks
like a cross between a double-decker bus and an armadillo that spouts out
black, putrid toxic fumes out of its multiple tail pipes, which, I am
sure, makes all environmentalists cringe.
When he parallel parks it he is sure to slam every car in its path
out of the way. He enjoys his morning coffee, but he despises line-ups, so he
takes out a freeze gun and, yup, freezes everybody waiting ahead of him so
that he can easily bud in towards the front.
Even though he shows a lack of humanity for freezing helpless patrons,
he nonetheless leaves his spare change in the leave-a-penny-take-a-penny
jar. He is a better tipper
than he is a role model to children, that’s for sure.
He likes to make small animals out of balloons and just after he
hands it to excited little tykes, he stabs them with a pen and deflates
them, much to their horror.
guy is evil.
lives in a decidedly normal suburb, but his humble abode is a dark,
dreary, and foreboding home that seems right out of The Adams Family,
complete with dead yellow grass and a roof that seems to attract an
unhealthy number of crows. In
his front hallway resides a prized lion bust…biting another smaller,
helpless animal that, in turn, is biting another smaller, helpless animal.
Underneath his main level lurks a vast and extraordinarily large
basement that is home to his mad scientist lair, which is completely
looked after by thousands of yellow, pint-sized minions that gleefully
follow their leader into any amoral abyss. His second in command is the very appropriately named Dr.
Nafario (Russell Brand), who assists his master with every scientific
pursuit. Gru even has a
trophy collection of his wrongful exploits: he has the actual NBC
jumbotron from Times Square that he stole as well as the Eiffel Tower and
the Stature of Liberty…granted…the latter two are just smaller
versions that he stole from a gift shop, which even seems more petty and
despite his willingness to be the mother of all deliriously wicked fiends,
Gru perhaps has some valid reasons as to why he is evil.
His cantankerous mother, all throughout his life, never paid any
attention to him, and when she did it was often in the form of an insult.
During one flashback the young Gru watches the first moon landing, to
which he tells his mother that he wants to be an astronaut.
She crassly retorts that he is too late, because NASA stopped
sending animals into space years before.
DESPICABLE ME does offer one modest nugget of truth: even terrible
men were once good at some point in their lives, but turned bad, perhaps
because they were not hugged and nurtured more.
even worse than Gru’s unsympathetic and uncaring mother is the fact that
he has now officially become the number two super villain on Earth,
which irks him to no end. It
seems that a much younger, nerdier, but equally resourceful young man
named Vector (Jason Segel) has managed to outfox Gru on just about all of
his treacherous goals. Gru really, really wants to…ahem…develop a shrink
ray to shrink the moon so that he can possess it.
However, just when Gru manages to get his hands on such that
seemingly impossible-to-find device, Vector swoops in, steals it right
from his grasps, and then stashes it away at his completely impenetrable
Vector has one weakness: cookies that local orphans sell door-to door, and Gru – seeing this as a weakness to exploit – hatches a dastardly plan: he will adopt three cute little orphans, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and then use them to get inside Vector’s lair to get back his sought after shrink ray gun. Unfortunately, Gru’s adoption of them has had some very problematic side effects: the girls start to cling to him and like him, which sends him into a existentialist funk: how can he continue to be bad and do bad things while raising young girls in the proper path?
a villain with delusions of grandeur and an impulse to control the world
via any means necessary to do?
ME is one of those rare animated films that gets a lot of mileage based on
the offbeat appeal of its main character.
Steve Carell, a natural funnyman if their ever was one, is a pure
delight here as Gru, who looks like an absurd hybrid of Uncle Fester,
Doctor Evil, and Danny Devito’s Penguin from BATMAN RETURNS.
His accent is interesting, a rich hint of Hungarian that the actor
has self-described as a combination of Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi
but, to be fair, sounds an awful lot like a Germanized SHREK.
Nonetheless, Carell's voice talents are well utilized here, as he
crafts a crazily hysterical vocal performance out his euphorically
duplicitous and unethical antagonist.
He occupies one uproarious sequence when he tries to read the
orphan girls a bedtime story called “Three Little Kittens”, which he
– after about one page in – hilariously describes as “crap.”
Few voice actors could make such an unnecessarily contemptible
critique of children’s prose seem so genuine.
film also has many more amusing beats, many of which come from Gru’s
hyper-caffeinated little minions, which jabber away in an indiscernible
dialect and waddle in and out of the frame like little penguins.
They occupy two very funny sequences: the first occurs when two of
them disguise themselves as a mother and father that travel to a local
retail store to buy one of the orphans a new stuffed unicorn toy and the
other involves one taking a special zero gravity pill that makes
him…float. The only side
effect, of course, is that the pill’s effects do not seem to waiver,
leaving one poor little henchman drifting away into space for days.
He seems to like it, though.
ME – directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud (a former Oscar nominee
for Short Animated Film) – is another in a long line of recent 3D
entertainments, but I will at least concede that – despite my overall
disdain of the format – their film acknowledges its usage of 3D as a
tool to throw images right at the screen for just the intended
“oooohhhh” and “aaaahhhh” reaction.
DESPICABLE ME rarely tries to hide behind its three dimensional
artifice, but rather it harnesses and exploits it.
No more is this better illustrated during a very sly montage during
the end credits (don’t leave before they are finished) that manages to
both pay homage to and lovingly mock the conventions of the format.
DESPICABLE ME is one of the few films that have a laugh at 3D’s
expense, which is kind of refreshing.
guess that I just wished that the overall story was equally
refreshing. There is rarely a
moment in the narrative that has any level of innovation or creativity.
The underlining themes of the healing power of children over an
initially unreformable and mean-spirited cretin do not leave viewers
questioning how it will end. It’s
not that the notion of adorable children warming the coldest of hearts
isn’t true, but just that it’s been done to death.
In actuality, DESPICABLE ME could have perhaps been better suited
if it avoided the sugary-sweet sentimentality of the orphan melodrama
altogether and primarily focused on the battle of evil wits between Gru
and Vector (that character, incidentally, is not truly memorably voiced by
Jason Segel; he’s kind of flat and indistinctive with the part and never
makes it his own).
Trying to marry social satire with an acerbic bite to that of a gushy story about loveable little girls seems both incongruent and more problematic. DESPICABLE ME tries to be too cute and cuddly too much of the time when it should have been, well, more despicable. The film’s visual style is clean, well delineated, and boisterous, but it does not hold a candle to recent masterstroke works by Pixar and Dreamworks that revealed in eye-popping detail and painstaking nuance. Finally, DESPICABLE ME often seems to confuse manic, slapstick energy with creativity; some instances of the film, like a spoof of John Travolta’s legendary dance sequence in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, seems…like…a joke that was funny 25-years ago. DESPICABLE ME is modestly entertaining, easily digestible, but ultimately forgettable, fun. It has a commanding Carell at the helm playing a joyously vile cretin and some funny material built around that (oh, Gru goes to the, what else, "Bank of Evil" formerly Lehman Brothers), but the predictability of its story makes it hard to recommend for theatrical consumption, not to mention that seeing it in theatres would involve an extra $3-4 surcharge to view it in 3D.