Minions has been so
heavily promoted, it’s sure to make a fortune on its opening weekend. But it’s
unlikely many viewers will want to see it a second time.
Gru’s little yellow henchmen stole the Despicable Me films from the trio of little girls who softened the title
character’s heart. They proved so popular on products and as an attraction at the
Universal theme parks, they’ve been given their own movie.
A smart writer would have put them at the edge of one of the
earlier films or another familiar story, and retold it from their point of
view, much the way Tom Stoppard showed “Hamlet” through the eyes of two
befuddled minor characters in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Instead,
Brian Lynch’s screenplay plops the Minions into the center of an overblown
story they simply don’t have the personalities to carry.
A prologue shows the Minions (who are apparently all male
and immortal) following a Tyrannosaurus and, later, a caveman and Napoleon.
Although this introductory sequence restates that the Minions seek to aid the
worst villain they can find, it fails to explain why. They’re not terribly
bright, but they’re basically nice guys. Why the attraction to evil?
After fleeing Napoleon’s angry troops, the entire tribe of
Minions withdraw to a vast cavern where they grow bored and despondent over the
decades. Kevin, the brightest Minion, decides to find a new villain for them to
assist. As companions, he draws hungry, wanna-be musician Stuart and naïve,
The three-Minion expedition arrives New York City in 1968—a year
apparently chosen by counting back from Gru’s age in first movies; it has nothing
to do with the story. When they learn about a Villain Convention in Orlando, the
trio heads south and meets arch-villain Scarlett Overkill (a gratingly hammy
Sandra Bullock). They win the chance to become her new henchmen and follow her
to London. Scarlett wants to steal the Queen’s crown so she can feel like a
princess. After a lot unnecessary complications, chases and hi-tech weapon fights,
Kevin, Stuart and Bob are reunited with the rest of their tribe just in time to
meet a child version of Gru.
The travel sequences and overwrought adventures recall
DreamWorks’ dreary Penguins of Madagascar,
and Minions suffers from many of the
same problems. Both films center on sidekick characters who don’t have deep or
complex enough personalities to carry a story. Sidekicks by definition are
minor characters who react to and comment on the actions of the principles. The
Mertzes were funny when they served as foils for Lucy and Ricky; a “Fred and
Ethel” movie would be deadly.
The big set pieces fail to land. An elaborate chase sequence
when the Minions try to steal the crown during a royal procession goes on and on
without eliciting any laughs. The few chuckles the film provokes came from pratfalls
and bits of business that felt like the Minions in the earlier movies.
Directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin try for Warner Bros.-type slapstick, but
the timing of the animation isn’t sharp enough. Too often, they settle for a Terrytoons
approach to humor: If something is supposed to be funny once, it should be
funny three or four times. How many shots does an audience need to see of a
crowd of Minions running in one direction to escape something, only to turn
around and run in the opposite direction?
The vocal performances are relentlessly over the top: Loud
and hysterical are not synonymous with energizing and funny. Having main
characters who jabber in nonsense syllables punctuated with real words in
English, Spanish, etc. quickly cloys, like an overextended Danny Kaye routine.
After hearing one old rock song rendered in Minionspeak, there’s no need for more.
But the real soundtrack of Minions is not the songs or doubletalk, but the ka-ching of the cash
register. Minions toys and products are on sale everywhere, and the incoherent
tail piece at the end of the credits turns into a plug for Minions attraction
at the Universal parks.