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‘Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature’ review: More hellish than hilarious

"The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature" is louder and more frenetic than the first installment. Credit: open road films

PLOT Surly the Squirrel must stop his park from being razed by a corrupt mayor.

CAST Voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph

RATED PG (mild peril and some gross humor)


BOTTOM LINE Frantic, violent and generally unpleasant.

One of the oddest animated films of the past few years, 2014’s “The Nut Job,” was a spoof noir that forgot to do much spoofing. It centered on Surly Squirrel, an embittered city park outcast voiced by Will Arnett, who attempts to knock over Maury’s Nut Shop. With its strangely cynical protagonist and themes of greed and betrayal, “The Nut Job” seemed unlikely to find many fans among young viewers (or their baffled parents).

Still, here comes the sequel, “The Nut Job 2,” directed and co-written by Cal Brunker. This movie is less dour than the first, but it’s also louder and more frenetic, with an emphasis on large-scale destruction and chaos. Throw in a couple of ugly new characters and one semi-nauseating barf joke, and “The Nut Job 2” marks the emergence of a consistently tone-deaf animated franchise.

In this story, Surly (Arnett, doing an almost-New York accent) runs the nut shop as a kind of open-door orgy where park animals come to gorge themselves on food. Andie, Surly’s levelheaded girlfriend (an appealing Katherine Heigl), worries that the critters are losing their natural instincts. Her Cassandra-like warnings set up a promising theme — easy living versus hard work — but it has little to do with the forthcoming plot, in which the corrupt Mayor Muldoon (Bobby Moynihan) attempts to bulldoze the park and turn it into a rickety theme park called Liberty Land.

A decrepit-looking carnival straight out of a Stephen King novel, Liberty Land is a good example of this movie’s off-target ideas. Mayor Muldoon and his bratty daughter, Heather (Isabela Moner), are so spitefully drawn — obese, pig-nosed, grimacing — that they’re not much fun as villains. The city mouse, Mr. Feng (Jackie Chan), is one of those adorable-yet-ferocious creatures that have been around since the Looney Tunes era. The film’s climactic sequence, in which the animals invade Liberty Land and turn its Ferris wheel into a rolling, raging inferno, seems more hellish than hilarious.

A budding romance between Precious, an ungainly pug (Maya Rudolph), and Frankie, an English bulldog (Bobby Cannavale), holds a glimmer of promise — at least until Frankie offers her a steaming pile of his own vomit. To “The Nut Job 2,” I say: No thanks.

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