PLOT In the mid-1970s, an 11-year-old supervillain meets his role model.
CAST Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Taraji P. Henson
RATED PG (some potty humor)
WHERE Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE More disposable family entertainment from the Minions, this time with a disco-funk soundtrack.
Remember the three little girls in the first “Despicable Me” movie? It has been more than 10 years since they melted the heart of a supervillain named Gru (Steve Carell), and by now they should be having new adventures in high school or even college. If you’re wondering whatever happened to those girls, I’ll tell you: the Minions, that’s what.
Gru’s antic, yellow-hued little sidekicks, who initially served as comic relief, proved so popular that they took over the franchise. Slapstick replaced heart-tugging, and now, five films in those girls are starting to feel like a distant memory. In fairness, this is a Minions-branded title; maybe the girls will return in “Despicable Me 4.”
“The Rise of Gru” typifies what makes this animated series so successful ($3.7 billion so far) and so irksome: a calculated combination of high-strung zaniness to wind up the kids and nostalgic pop-culture references to soothe the parents. Where previous entries focused on the 1980s and the 1960s, this one mines the hoary 1970s. Get ready for an Afro-coiffed villain named Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson).
The year is 1975, judging by a theater playing “Jaws,” and Gru is an 11-year-old kid (still with the voice of Carell!) who dreams of joining the Vicious 6. That supervillain cabal includes Belle, the roller-skater Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) and the lobsterish cyborg Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme). But wait -- don’t those voices belong to a different decade? I was more impressed by Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless), a semi-sacrilegious villain, and Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), an aging biker who develops a grandfatherly affection for the young Gru. They're all chasing a magical Zodiac Stone that grants the holder transformational powers.
Talk about conceptual overload! Yet screenwriter Matthew Fogel and director Kyle Balda still manage to squeeze in an “Easy Rider”-style road trip (RZA plays the Biker) and a kung-fu homage featuring Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh).Fans will call it inspired lunacy; others will sense a throw-it-to-the-wall approach that rarely sticks. I still can’t tell the Minions apart, and now there’s a new one named Otto, with braces.
The good news is that superproducer Jack Antonoff masterminded the music, which means a whole crateful of golden oldies -- Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” gets pride of place -- and a sparkling collaboration between Motown legend Diana Ross and indie darlings Tame Impala titled “Turn Up the Sunshine.” If you’re not a Minions fan, at least you can sit back and play “Name that Tune."