Fur­ther fun with the clumsy yel­low ones

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei This week

Minions (PG) Na­tional re­lease Last year, the Pen­guins es­caped Mada­gas­car to star in their own film. Now it’s the Minions’ turn. an an­i­mated chil­dren’s com­e­dyad­ven­ture, is a spin-off from and pre­quel to De­spi­ca­ble Me (2010). It’s not quite as good as that film, which soars on Steve Carell’s per­for­mance as the sen­si­tive arch-vil­lain of the ti­tle, but it’s still clever and a lot of fun.

French an­i­ma­tor Pierre Cof­fin, who codi­rected (with Chris Re­naud) De­spi­ca­ble Me and its 2013 se­quel, is at the co-helm again (this time with Kyle Banda). That Minions has lots of stereo­typ­i­cal jokes about the English — the bad teeth, the tea, the cor­gis — I will let go through to the keeper.

The film opens with a mock-doc­u­men­tary se­quence, nar­rated by Ge­of­frey Rush, that slickly fills in the Minions’ back­story. The lit­tle yel­low crea­tures (“like a jaun­diced baby’’, some­one ob­serves later) have been around since the dawn of time. Their only pur­pose in life is to serve an evil master.

Un­for­tu­nately, the Minions are lethally clumsy, and we watch through time as tyrants of vary­ing de­grees of wicked­ness — a T. rex, Drac­ula, Napoleon — come to un­timely ends. “Find­ing a boss was easy, but keep­ing a boss ... there lies the rub,’’ in­tones our nar­ra­tor.

The Minions ex­ile them­selves to Antarc­tica, but soon be­come de­spon­dent and so three of their num­ber — Kevin, Stu­art and Bob — head off in search of a new over­lord. It’s now 1968 and their odyssey takes them first to New York and then to Lon­don.

The swing­ing 60s set­ting will bring smiles to the faces of nos­tal­gic older view­ers, but be pre­pared for a lot of ques­tions af­ter­wards. What’s Be­witched, Dad? Who’s Nixon? It also pro­vides a lively sound­track and sets up some neat vis­ual jokes, such as when the three Minions pop up from un­der a Lon­don man­hole cover only to be The re­cent film star­ring Adam San­dler — wait! Don’t leave ... hear me out, and I’ll prom­ise this is not an Adam San­dler film.

is di­rected by Tom McCarthy, the Amer­i­can char­ac­ter ac­tor who has proved him­self a very ca­pa­ble writer-di­rec­tor with the very good

(which in­tro­duced Peter Din­klage to the world) and immigration drama

be­fore the so-so And San­dler tends to in­vest more into his dra­mas — or even his fi­nal ap­pear­ance bid­ding farewell to David Let­ter­man on the lat­ter’s show last month — than he does in his film comedies these days. His per­for­mance in was as good as his early com­edy, although in­vest­ing some­thing into Jason Reit­man’s re­cent shocker didn’t pay off.

So DVD Let­ter­box is far more in­clined to give San­dler a go here than in even though is a “fan­tasy drama”. (When is the last time that genre worked?)

The first sur­prise is an open­ing pe­riod scene with sub­ti­tles, briefly es­tab­lish­ing the history of a New York shoe re­pair shop and its magic heir­loom. San­dler’s Max Simkin is — as San­dler char­ac­ters of­ten are — be­wil­dered and frus­trated by the monotony of his daily ex­is­tence. That is un­til he stum­bles upon that heir­loom in the base­ment. In another ex­am­ple of his pen­chant for magic re­al­ism, San­dler’s char­ac­ter takes on the ap­pear­ance of cus­tomers when he dons their shoes re­paired by the mag­i­cal stitcher. He’s been here be­fore in and and pushed back down by four through a pedes­trian cross­ing.

Kevin, Stu­art and Bob have their sights set on Scar­let Overkill (voiced by San­dra Bul­lock), “the world’s first fe­male su­pervil­lain’’. They find her, and her mad in­ven­tor hus­band Herb (Jon Hamm), at an in­ter­na­tional vil­lain con­ven­tion in Or­lando, Florida. This is bril­liantly staged, a blended par­ody of Os­cars night and Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions.

Like all the best vil­lains, Scar­let Overkill is a com­bi­na­tion of ruth­less­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and Bul­lock brings this across well. Al­li­son Jan­ney and Michael Keaton add fur­ther star power in their Bon­nie and Clyde (with kids) roles.

From here the story takes lots of twists and turns, with Brian Lynch’s script in­cor­po­rat­ing more plot lines than the av­er­age kids’ film, but it’s not hard to fol­low. There’s sus­tained sus­pense, thrilling chase scenes and lots of nods to

blokes

strid­ing pos­si­bly thought he might at­tain the heights of Steve Martin and Lily Tom­lin in Un­for­tu­nately, no.

Though it’s not San­dler’s fault, or the fault of a range of ac­tors who sub­se­quently take on San­dler’s man­ner­isms and vo­cal pat­terns with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess and com­edy.

The screen­play by McCarthy and Paul Sado as­pires to be some­what sweet rather than go for all-out laughs. But the sweet­ness sags into stu­pid­ity af­ter the ini­tial few mild laughs as Max tests out var­i­ous bod­ies. But then the film has to find a story, not just a gim­mick. Even­tu­ally, Max de­votes his mag­i­cal pow­ers to the un­likely job of sav­ing a res­i­dent be­ing evicted by an evil land­lord (Ellen Barkin), and the story de­volves into a mushy fa­ble about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, fam­ily and mak­ing good.

Max dis­cov­ers, in a silly con­clu­sion fea­tur­ing Dustin Hoff­man, that he is the guardian of souls — soles, get it? — as if he hadn’t al­ready re­alised, you have to oc­ca­sion­ally walk in another per­son’s shoes to see who you re­ally are. By then, The Cob­bler’s (M, Trans­mis­sion, 94 min, $29.99) sen­ti­ment feels like it’s hit you in the head with a Blund­stone boot. What We Did on Our Hol­i­day (PG) Trans­mis­sion (91 min, $29.99) The News­room: sea­son 3 (M) HBO (439 min, $29.99) The Dis­ap­pear­ance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (M) Trans­mis­sion (123 min, $29.99) Wild (MA15+) Fox (115 min, $29.95) pop­u­lar cel­lu­loid mon­sters. The un­der-12s at the screen­ing I at­tended had a ball.

The se­ri­ous ac­tion un­folds in Lon­don, cen­tred on Scar­let Overkill’s am­bi­tion to usurp the throne. It’s here we meet my favourite char­ac­ter (it’s the first ques­tion I’m asked, post-film): a feisty Queen El­iz­a­beth II, sharp of tongue and fast of fist, won­der­fully voiced by English co­me­dian Jen­nifer Saun­ders.

When the Min­ion masses back in Antarc­tica de­cide to set out af­ter their three com­rades, we drop in on other climes, in­clud­ing a comic-book Aus­tralia (but, hey, it’s nice to be in­cluded). The end­ing, a tremen­dous bat­tle in Trafal­gar Square (with Ad­mi­ral Nel­son no mere stone wit­ness) fol­lowed by a fi­nal show­down out­side Buck­ing­ham Palace, is very sat­is­fy­ing, neatly re­mind­ing us that this is a pre­quel. (A third De­spi­ca­ble Me film is due in 2017, by the way.)

Co-di­rec­tor Cof­fin voices all of the Minions in what my young co-re­viewer and I have dubbed Span­glib­ber­ish, as it sounds mostly Span­ish en­hanced with a bit of English and a lot of non­sense. The strange thing is, it’s very easy to un­der­stand, such as in a won­der­ful scene where the Minions per­suade a cave­man to fend off a bear with a fly­swat­ter. Move over, Esperanto, Min­ion is here.

With the school hol­i­days loom­ing, Minions is a good an­swer to the peren­nial ques­tion, “What are we go­ing to do to­day?” While it can be seen on its own, I sug­gest catch­ing up with the De­spi­ca­ble Me films first (there’s another day sorted!), as it will en­rich the ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s not with­out ed­u­ca­tional value, ei­ther, with the Tower of Lon­don tor­ture cham­ber scene, for ex­am­ple, sure to ex­cite in­ter­est in English history.

Two other sug­ges­tions: see the film in 3D and stick around for the post-cred­its se­quence. These have be­come near-ubiq­ui­tous, but this one is worth wait­ing for, es­pe­cially in 3D.

June 20-21, 2015

The Minions take a ride with Scar­let Overkill (voiced by San­dra Bul­lock)

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