Mastermind of villainy Gru (Steve Carell: Date Night) is annoyed when some new bad guy on the scene steals his villainous thunder. To climb back on top he aims to steal the moon, and all that’s missing from his master plan is one critical piece. To get at it he adopts three little orphan girls: Margo, Edith and Agnes. Their want for family proves formidable, though, and Gru swerves through strange territory as the dream heist and fatherhood come into conflict.
So plays the inaugural movie for Illumination Entertainment, Universal’s answer to Pixar. It’s an impressive start.
opening this week
Studio Tagline: Your mind is the scene of the crime.
It’s the future and Leonardo DiCaprio is a master thief, using a technology that lets him delve into dreams to steal secrets. He’s washed up and on the lam until the opportunity to use his talents to instead plant an idea offers a chance at redemption. Of course, there will be danger both inside and outside of the mind game. This looks to be a brave piece of work; a mind-bending thriller with a solid cast directed by Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan. Filmmakers would seem to have creatively explored the premise without dipping too far into the surreal. Could be grand.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 148 mins.
Studio Tagline: Who is Salt?
Angelina Jolie is a CIA superspy who goes on the run after a Russian defector accuses her of plotting to assassinate the president. But the fight to prove her innocence only casts doubt on her motives. The ensuing adventure could be a fun Bourne-style brawl, helmed by capable enough director Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger). Action looks good. But a look at the previews, cast, crew and writing credit don’t lend much hope for story — and that matters for intrigue. It probably won’t be super sharp, but it may serve up an entertaining, if forgettable, popcorn flick.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 99 mins.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Studio Tagline: It’s the Coolest Job Ever
Nicolas Cage is battling arch nemesis Alfred Molina in the shadows of Manhattan and trying to save the world, but he needs help. So he finds Jay Baruchel, an average college kid, who he’ll train to become a great hero. Splashy effects and Molina as a villain bring some promise to the tale — until you realize this is a drawn out, paper-thin, live-action adaptation of the Mickey Mouse broom-and-buckets classic, sequenced from Fantasia. Really. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer brings the boom, and National Treasure’s Jon Turteltaub directs, meaning it’s probably all noise and no substance.
Prospects: Dim • PG • 121 mins.
Despicable Me works toward a generally predictable ending and, as is pretty much given, revolves around the thawing of a Grinch-like heart. But the filmmakers play around inventively with the journey. Story veers through fun twists and turns as Gru goes up against his rival in villainy and copes with his new dad role. Pacing is brisk and even, delivering quick action even while taking care to nurture personality. No character is wasted: Gru and the girls carry the day, but even his bit-character mother is a blast to watch.
Speaking of blasts, the movie delivers best in its rediscovery of Looney Tunes verve. Gru’s rocket-powered SUV and weirdly conceived airship crown a collection of goofy/ridiculous props. Victims of slapstick violence, when attacked by a bristle of missiles that Wile E. Coyote would be proud of, stumble forward with the trademark gunpowder smudge. The movie strikes a balance between the polished aesthetic of Pixar and the delightful abandon of classic Saturday morning cartoons.
The effect is goofy, light and breezy fun. Humor is all very cute and family friendly, but it’s smart — and there’s just the slightest malicious edge to Gru’s character to make him click. Gru’s rival as a juvenile caricature of Bill Gates is great, and Gru’s many minions — ovoid yellow oddballs that speak in gibberish — are great scene-stealers that play like Three Stooges versions of Toy Story’s aliens.
Rapper Pharrell contributes a crisp and light soundtrack to round out the atmosphere. Carell’s clunky eastern European accent is perfect for the role, and he’s supported by a talented voice cast including Julie Andrews, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Russell Brand and Jason Segel.
All told, this one’s a gem. It’s light, cute fun that’s gentle enough for the smaller kids yet smart enough for the grown-ups.
Great cartoon • PG • 95 mins.
Prediction Quality: Off the Mark