The supporting actors from Despicable Me get their own movie, and they don’t know what to do with it except to run amok in a story that feels haphazard
Starring: The voices of Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm
Directed by: Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Running time: 91 minutes
By Jay Stone
The minions are here, a little late for Dominion Day, but just in time for the summer silly season. Minions is a spin-off from two darkly hilarious Despicable Me films, giving starring roles to that movie’s small, pill-shaped henchmen: yellow Tylenols, or maybe cowardly vitamins, who wear goggles, have randomly been assigned one or two eyes each, speak an unidentifiable Esperanto of French, Italian and English and are giddily happy to be of service to the nearest villain.
Like many supporting characters, the minions were better in that role: idiotic foils for Despicable Me’s brooding, tormented Gru. In Minions, they’re a collection of absurd nonentities whose adventures are all jokes and no substance. They’re funny for a while, but they wear you down; Minions is an exhausting folderol that dispenses with the many foundations of film animation — things like story, character, and coherence — and simply runs amok.
Not that running amok is a totally bad thing. There’s a lot of fun to be had when these tiny, idiotic creatures pronounce their love for “ba-na-nas” — one of the few words that you can understand — or cleverly communicate through sheer gesture or tone. An inventive prelude gives a history of both minion devotion to evil characters and their unfortunate way of accidentally destroying them: at one point, they throw a 357th birthday party for a vampire and turn him to dust by opening the drapes to reveal the cake.
The main story is set in the 1960s — the soundtrack blends music by the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and others into a satisfyingly nostalgic blend that is one of several hints that Minions is aimed mostly at parents, with their children being an accidental, drive-by audience. This suspicion is underlined by the film’s several references to older movies, including the Bond films, Ghostbusters, Cast Away and even It Happened One Night. (For the record, there are also several scenes, including an unfunny bit set in a torture chamber that might frighten the youngest children.)
Looking for a new evil master, the minions dispatch three representatives, Kevin, Bob and Stuart (all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) to find a bad guy they can be minions for. They hitchhike to Orlando — pictured, in its pre-Disney age, as a swampy wasteland — for a super-villain convention, where they win the heart of Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock, way out of her league), the supposedly most frightening of them all. Scarlet is one of several problems with the movie: her villainy is second-hand and mild, revolving mostly around a rocket-powered gown, and she is drawn to look sexy in a pointy-nosed way. Indeed, she has some of the aspects of Helen Mirren, which is a coincidence because her dastardly plot revolves around stealing Queen Elizabeth’s crown and becoming ruler of England. Bullock’s attempt at an evil-sounding snarl does nothing to sell this bizarre notion.
She also has a husband, Herb (Jon Hamm), who is one of those 1960s British dandies with a skinny suit and sideburns and a similarly anodyne personality. With no rich bad guys and no identifiable hero, Minions skitters off into a series of chases, non-sequiturs and — fortunately — the occasionally inspired bit of business. There’s a brief scene about a scientist named Professor Flux (Steve Coogan) who invents a time machine that replicates him, and then accidentally erases his original self, thus destroying his future copies. It’s very funny but — like the minions — you wouldn’t want a whole movie of it.
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