For those without small children and only a passing interest in registering what plasters New York City bus stops: yes, there is a movie called “The Smurfs 2.” It’s a sequel to an unreasonably successful movie called “The Smurfs” from way back in the year of our lord 2011. The original film starred Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays as a pair of modern day New Yorkers who are visited by The Smurfs, a clan of tiny blue humanoids who battled an evil wizard (Hank Azaria under rubbery prosthetics), caused all sorts of mischief and kind of made the movie into an unofficial remake of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” The sequel finds the same humans and a couple of the same Smurfs, only the location has been changed to Paris, France, and for some reason noted Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is along for the ride. We suspect that a house payment was due. Or he wanted to buy a new boat.
Trying to decipher the plot of “The Smurfs 2,” which is at once childishly simplistic and needless convoluted, is harder than juggling chainsaws with one hand tied behind your back (even our notes look like complete gibberish), but the basic gist is that the fantasy land of the Smurfs, which seems to be just over some kind of magical portal from our world, is interrupted by Vexy (Christina Ricci), a kind of off-brand Smurf known as a “Naughty.” She kidnaps the kindly Smurfette (Katy Perry, her usual boisterous roar boiled down to an irritating squeak) and takes her to modern day Paris, where Gargamel (Azaria) wants to utilize her for some kind of power grab. The Smurfs’ nebulously defined “essence” somehow powers him. Or something.
So a bunch of the B-team Smurfs, like Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), Grouchy (George Lopez), Vanity (John Oliver), and Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters), head on over to retrieve Smurfette and defeat Gargamel and the Naughties (there’s another one, played by J.B. Smoove as some kind of loosed mental patient). They pick up Harris, Mays, and Gleeson (playing Harris’ stepfather) along the way, and all three humans are all more than willing to join in this magical odyssey even though, we’re assuming, they have jobs they should probably be showing up to. No matter—to Paris!
The rest of the movie is one of the more headache-inducing blurs we’ve suffered through this year at the movies. At one point, we thought that we left our sunglasses outside the screening room, a reprieve that had more drama, humor, and suspense than anything in the actual movie (they were in our bag the whole time). Over the course of the film’s arduous 104-minute runtime, Gleeson gets turned into a talking duck, the Naughties cause untold amounts of property damage, and a steady stream of FM-friendly electronic pop songs flood the soundtrack. We would say it’s an endurance test, but usually tests have some kind of reward or sense of accomplishment on the other side. All this had was the depressing realization that we had seen “The Smurfs 2” and nothing was ever going to change that.
As directed by Raja Gosnell, the auteur behind “Home Alone 3,” “Big Momma’s House,” “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed,” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “The Smurfs 2” doesn’t even pretend to be anything more but the most base, sugar-coated family entertainment, the kind of things that parents won’t even be able to comprehend, much less enjoy. Scenes don’t unfold as much as they are splattered across the screen, with little regard for physics, spatial geography, or even the basics of common sense. The kind of classical adventure that filled the pages of Dutch comic book creator Peyo‘s original comic strip are nowhere to be found in the movies, replaced by a crass sense of commercialism (you can practically feel the product tie-ins) and an unexceptional original song by Britney Spears.
The Smurfs themselves, at least, are brought to the screen with a moderate amount of care and attention, thanks to the talented artists over at Sony Pictures Animation. The problem, of course, is that no matter how lovingly crafted the characters are, that they’re never given anything interesting to do and are often stuck in some bland environment, even in the sunshine-y, mushroom-dotted Smurf world or in Paris, a city that they don’t even attempt to evoke in any kind of authentic way. Oftentimes the Smurfs are so dazzling, with little flourishes like the way that their skin seems almost translucent, with sunlight scattering just beneath the surface, that you can be temporarily taken out of the truly awful movie. But still, the horrible movie remains.
Performance-wise, “The Smurfs 2” is a disaster. It turns Neil Patrick Harris, America’s sweetheart, into an unlikable bore. And even the voice performances (including the last ever from Jonathan Winters) feel forced and unengaged. It’s easy to forget that Christina Ricci, as the no good troublemaker, played a similarly free spirited (if decidedly less villainous) role in “The Simpsons” episode “Summer of 4 Ft. 2.” If the filmmakers behind “The Smurfs 2” are aping a “Simpsons” episode from 1996, it just shows you the level of creative bankruptcy behind the whole endeavor. The movie does have a I-can’t-fucking-believe-what-I’m-watching quality that occasionally borders on the downright hallucinogenic and the Smurfs find themselves in a situation that eerily recalls the Nazi gas chambers (because little kids love call backs to World War II atrocities), but beyond these points of (mild) interest, but it’s hard to find that anyone, young or old, could get anything out of “The Smurfs 2” besides regret. Hopefully Brendan Gleeson really enjoys that new boat, because this shit is embarrassing. [D]