“Despicable Me” (2010) told the story of a super-villain who had a change of heart. Three years later, in “Despicable Me 2,” the now ex-super-villain gets to prove the change is for keeps.
The new installment doesn’t break a lot of new ground or have a whole lot to say, but it should be a fun movie for parents looking for a kid-safe option at theaters this summer.
His diabolical moon-stealing days of criminal masterminding behind him, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is now up to what should be his neck in his new life as a single father. He lives in his same macabre house, though it has been spruced up a bit by the presence of his three adopted daughters, and he’s converted his criminal lab into a factory where thousands of his little yellow minions produce terrible jams and jellies.
The fit may be a bit odd — Dr. Nefario can’t handle the new life and bails for a job with a competitor — but early on Gru earns his stripes when he volunteers to stand in as a wig-topped, frilly pink princess at his daughter’s birthday party.
But soon the call of his old life beckons, and Gru feels the pull of "the game" tugging at his disproportionately skinny ankles. A mysterious criminal has just made off with a secret lab stocked with a top-secret serum that transforms its victims into purple crazed maniacs, and an equally top-secret agency called the AVL (Anti-Villain League) wants Gru to use his old bad-guy instincts to help track down the thief.
With a little persuasion from a taser-toting AVL agent named Lucy (Kristen Wiig), Gru joins the sting and goes undercover in a local mall, where the agency believes the perpetrator is hiding out as a boutique owner. As the pair spy on one suspicious tenant at a time, they eventually encounter Eduardo, the owner of a Mexican restaurant. Eduardo bears a striking resemblance to an old colleague of Gru's named El Macho, who supposedly died while riding a shark strapped with dynamite into the mouth of an open volcano. Gru’s suspicions are inflamed when his oldest daughter takes an interest in Eduardo’s son, Antonio.
Which leads us to the second theme of the film: “Despicable Me 2” is also the story of a single dad looking for love. If it wasn’t hard enough trying to figure out how to be a dad, it seems everyone has a perfect match for Gru, and true to real life, none of them are anything of the sort. Luckily there are other rather obvious cast members ready to fill the bill.
There’s plenty here to keep the kids happy, if only because the film employs Gru’s seemingly innumerable yellow minions as a constant source of slapstick humor. (In fact, one of the best understated jokes in the film is the fact that dozens of the minions are kidnapped by the bad guy without Gru ever realizing any of them are gone.)
Like most films in its genre, “Despicable Me 2” also includes several subtle nods to the adults in the audience, which will be fun for parents looking for a payoff for 90 minutes of kid wrangling in a dark theater. One passing shot re-creates the famous photograph of construction workers eating lunch on a beam high above the city, only here the construction workers have been replaced with those Cheeto-shaped minions.
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The film also offers some top-rate CGI animation that feels right at home in a 3-D format, though several of the “throw-something-at-the-camera” shots still feel forced. But if the additional expense is an issue, sacrificing the 3-D experience to save money on a family’s worth of movie tickets won’t compromise the strengths of the film.
“Despicable Me 2” is rated PG for some mild scatological humor (read: flatulence jokes) and a few characters/images that might be frightening for very small children.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on the "KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English Composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.