Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Despicable Me 3 and The House

If there's one current animated franchise I always look forward to, it's the Despicable Me films. Credited directors Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillon (co-director) bring to theaters the third installment of this series. Yet, with each subsequent journey into the hilarious and complicated life of former-super-villain Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the Despicable Me franchise seems to take a step backwards.

After foiling an attempt at capturing the disgruntled former child star and 80s retro villain, Balthazar Bratt (voiced by South Park creator Trey Parker), Gru and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from the Anti-Villain League (AVL). And just as Gru breaks the unfortunate news to his trio of adopted daughters, he's visited by a man who reveals that Gru has a twin brother named Dru (also Steve Carell) who happens to possess a taste for villainy himself. The estranged siblings engage in some mischievous behavior behind Lucy's back and it leads on a path back to Balthazar Bratt once again.

Despicable Me 3 misses a grand opportunity with the franchise's over-arching story to develop a deep and impactful character conflict with Gru, all while continuing to keep its running time under the 100-minute threshold. Rather, the team involved takes a simpler and thoughtless approach that keeps the effort from ever really standing out. Sure, the film delivers familiar laughs with its quirky main characters and boundless minions, who always find clever ways of bringing the humor, but devoting all of its attention to a contrived twin-brother creation fails to take the Despicable Me franchise any further. If you aren't already an invested fan of the series, then there isn't nearly enough to warrant a watch.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Over the last two decades Will Ferrell's career trajectory has been trending in the wrong direction. Its path falling steeper and steeper with each passing movie decision. But it's the latest co-called "comedy" from first-time director and established screenwriter, Andrew Jay Cohen (Neighbors 1 & 2 and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), that marks an absolute low for the one-time king of comedy.

Timid suburban parents Scott and Kate (Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are banking on a local town scholarship to help pay for their daughter's expensive college tuition. But when a crooked councilman (Nick Kroll) votes to terminate the scholarship fund in favor of building a fancy new community pool, they must do whatever it takes to afford the first fall payment, even if it means opening an underground casino in their emotionally unstable friend's (The League's Jason Mantzoukas) house. The couple quickly learns that they have to toughen up in order to run a successful and respectable illegal gambling operation.

The story borderlines on lunacy, the laughs are almost non-existent and, in fact, there's almost nothing redeeming in Cohen's The House. I apply to the school where comedies are supposed to be clever and make you laugh. The "clever" tag has faded a bit over the years, but at least most modern comedies can still generate a response with some type of identifiable humor. Oddly, The House doubles down on incoherently improvised gibberish that's neither funny or effective in any way, shape or form. Known for his outlandishly over-the-top personae in tv shows and on the big screen, Jason Mantzoukas stands as the only lifeline in the film and, honestly, he isn't all that great either. Roll the dice with something, even anything, else and take a long walk away from The House.

Stars: 1 star out of 4

Grade: D

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