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Courtesy of Toonbox Entertainment
Andie (voiced by Katherine Heigl) in "The Nut Job," opening Jan. 17

It's taken for granted these days that young children will exhibit an almost preternatural ability to multitask and utilize modern technologies. That may explain the thinking behind this month's multi-plotted animated feature "The Nut Job," a chaotic caper involving squirrels, bank robbers and Liam Neeson.

But that's the generous glass-half-full explanation. The more likely explanation is that "Nut Job" is just not a very well-written film.

The central plot of "Nut Job" is fixed around Surly (voiced by Will Arnett), a misfit squirrel who is managing an uneasy co-existence with a bunch of other small mammals in a city park. Their leader is a raccoon named, well, Raccoon (Neeson), they have a dim-witted hero named Grayson (Brendan Fraser) and, of course, there is Andie (Katherine Heigl), destined to become Surly's love interest.

For the most part, the park animals work together to sustain their day-to-day existence, but Surly has a tendency to go his own way, and after an early mistake costs the group most of its winter stash, he is exiled to the big city.

Once he's on his own, Surly's luck swings from bad to good as he discovers a nut store less than a block from the park. There are only two challenges: first, how to get inside and get the mother load. And second? How to get past the criminals who are using the store's basement to tunnel into a bank vault just down the street.

These parallel capers should have been enough to carry the narrative load, but unfortunately the writers choose to tack on a number of unnecessary subplots and a slew of hard-to-follow characters, and by the third act, it's a challenge to keep up.

It doesn't help that "Nut Job" lacks a truly appealing protagonist. Unfortunately, "Surly" is too accurate a name for "Nut Job's" lead squirrel, and voiced by an actor who made his mark as the incompetently sinister Gob Bluth on TV's "Arrested Development," it's not surprising that the character fails to emote heroic warm fuzzies.

A film like this is best judged by its target audience, yet far too often the jokes failed to get laughs from the adolescent crowd at the press screening. "Confusing" was one term used to describe the experience.

You could definitely do worse, but that's a weak endorsement for a film that should be quickly forgotten in the coming months.

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Like most animated films in its genre, "The Nut Job" is presented in 3-D, though the bonus effects don't really bring anything extra to the experience. Parents could be advised to save their money and go with the 2-D option, but a more honest recommendation would be to go for one of the far better animated options that are still in theaters.

"The Nut Job" is rated PG for some vulgar flatulence humor, comic violence and some moments that might be frightening for 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 woundedmosquito.com.