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‘Despicable Me 3’ review: Dependably silly movie will be a hit with kids

Steve Carell returns as the voice of villain-turned-dad Gru, this time confronting a 1980s-themed evildoer named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker, of "South Park"). (Credit: Universal Pictures UK)

PLOT The onetime supervillain Gru meets his long-lost twin, Dru.

CAST Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker

RATED PG (mild rude humor)


BOTTOM LINE Dependably silly and typically unfocused. Should keep young fans happy.

The “Despicable Me” franchise, now on its third movie and one spinoff, is beginning to resemble a television show like “Full House” or “Two and a Half Men” — massively popular, family-friendly and ultimately review-proof. Who cares if critics object to the weak storylines and shark-jumping plot developments? The animation studio Illumination Entertainment has found a formula worth $2.6 billion in worldwide box office so far, and with the new “Despicable Me 3,” they’re sticking to it.

That formula starts, again, with Steve Carell as the voice of Gru, the former supervillain who now serves as suburban dad to three adopted girls (Margo, Edith and Agnes, who don’t seem to be aging). The previous film introduced a love interest in the form of Lucy (Kristen Wiig), a spy who recruits Gru into the Anti-Villain League. The main ingredient, though, is provided by Gru’s Minions, the yellow-skinned munchkins whose slapstick antics and babyish babbling proved so popular that they anchored their own movie in 2015. In short, think “Get Smart” meets “The Little Rascals.”

Speaking of television tropes, “Despicable Me 3” goes back to an old one: the dual role. In this episode, Carell plays not only the grumpy, baldheaded Gru but also his long-lost twin, Dru, a giggling, golden-haired rich kid. Dru isn’t the most clearly conceived character — is he a threatening alpha male or a dimwitted nuisance? — but Carell has good chemistry with himself, especially when the siblings switch outfits and mock each other. (“Look,” says Gru, “I laugh a lot, and I’m also kind of an idiot!”)

Adding to this slender storyline is a new villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), a former child actor still clinging to the ’80s. Bratt is a parade of fond cultural references, from shoulder pads to Rubik’s Cubes to the keytar. The ’80s conceit isn’t terribly original — Adam Sandler has made several movies out of it — but middle-aged parents will have a hard time resisting the nostalgic soundtrack of Nena, A-ha, Phil Collins and others.

That’s a calculated demographic move, of course, as is much of “Despicable Me 3,” which also strikes notes of tween angst, childhood magic (one subplot involves a unicorn) and, of course, the pre-verbal humor of the Minions. Not the freshest formula, you say? Perhaps, but it’s hard to argue with success.

4 twin sets on the big screen

There’s double trouble as Steve Carell voices twin Dru and Gru in “Despicable Me 3.” Here are four other movies in which there was twice as much of their stars to go around as they played twins.

A STOLEN LIFE (1946) In this super soaper, Bette Davis had a field day as twins, one of whom weds the man (Glenn Ford) her sister loves. When the married twin dies in a boating accident, the other assumes her identity to win back her beau. Davis did double duty as well in the 1964 drama “Dead Ringer.”

THE DARK MIRROR (1946) In this thriller, a psychiatrist (Lew Ayres) works with the police to determine which twin sister (Olivia de Havilland in a dual role) was responsible for a murder.

TWINS (1988) Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger were as mismatched a set of twins as you could imagine in this comedy. After being separated at birth, they reconnect and discover their physical statures aren’t their only differences.

STUCK ON YOU (2003) Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear starred as conjoined twins Bob and Walt Tenor, whose closeness is put to the test when they head from Martha’s Vineyard to Los Angeles so Walt can pursue his dream of stardom.

— Daniel Bubbeo

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