‘Despicable Me 3’ nei­ther doubles nor triples the fun

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - JUSTIN CHANG FILM CRITIC

Even the ti­tle seems off. If we needed this third film about a re­formed su­pervil­lain named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), his ev­er­ex­pand­ing fam­ily, his end­lessly mer­chan­dis­able Min­ions and his in­creas­ingly tire­some Manichaean strug­gle, it re­ally should have been called “Despicable We.” Af­ter all, the new movie’s main plot point is the re­union of Gru with Dru (also Carell), the iden­ti­cal twin brother he never knew he had — a lame brand-ex­tend­ing con­trivance that comes straight out of “The Par­ent Trap.”

You might de­scribe “Despicable Me 3” as a par­ent trap, too, though prob­a­bly not the kind that the hard­work­ing peo­ple at Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures and Il­lu­mi­na­tion En­ter­tain­ment had in mind. Don’t get me wrong: Par­ents of young kids tend to de­velop a high tol­er­ance for the mass-pro­duced medi­ocrity that typ­i­cally passes for chil­dren’s en­ter­tain­ment and will hap­pily en­dure a lot of it in ex­change for 90 min­utes’ worth of (rel­a­tive) peace and quiet.

But “Despicable Me 3,” writ­ten by Cinco Paul and Ken Dau­rio, is close to un­en­durable. Un­der the pre­text of of­fer­ing fun for the whole fam­ily, the movie winds up do­ing al­most pre­cisely the op­po­site; its at­tempts at grown-up so­phis­ti­ca­tion and cheeky, know­ing hu­mor are clue­less and hec­tor­ing enough to leave any adult in the au­di­ence wish­ing they’d been straight-up ig­nored.

Most of the pain ar­rives cour­tesy of new uber-bad­die Balt­hazar Bratt (Trey Parker), the for­mer child star of a long-for­got­ten ’80s TV show whose mem­ory he now seeks to avenge. To that end, he wears a hideous mul­let (sorry if I’m be­ing re­dun­dant) and mile-high shoul­der pads, and his ev­ery ap­pear­ance sum­mons forth a blast of pop­u­lar mu­sic from that much-de­rided decade. Michael Jack­son’s “Bad” is un­sur­pris­ingly high on the playlist as are sim­i­larly ob­vi­ous can­di­dates like “Take My Breath Away” and “Take on Me.”

By the time the movie tosses in a 10-sec­ond ex­cerpt from “99 Luft­bal­lons,” you might find your­self less amused than en­raged. Not be­cause the songs aren’t fun, but be­cause even their wan nos­tal­gia value feels cheap­ened and di­min­ished by di­rec­tors Pierre Cof­fin and Kyle Balda, who treat ev­ery el­e­ment on their broad, busy can­vas with the same undis­crim­i­nat­ing junk­yard sen­si­bil­ity that has be­come syn­ony­mous with the Il­lu­mi­na­tion En­ter­tain­ment brand (see also “The Se­cret Life of Pets” and “Dr. Seuss’ The Lo­rax.” If you must).

The plot is set in mo­tion when Bratt uses bub­blegum bombs and a weaponized key­tar to steal an enor­mous di­a­mond. Fail­ing to cap­ture their new neme­sis, Gru and his new wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), are stripped of their crime-fight­ing cre­den­tials by the An­tiVil­lain League, which has come un­der tough new man­age­ment (Jenny Slate, briefly heard). But the stresses of un­em­ploy­ment are tem­po­rar­ily put on hold when Gru learns from his es­tranged mother (Julie An­drews) that he has a twin brother, Dru, from whom he was sep­a­rated at birth.

Along with Lucy and his three adopted daugh­ters — the ma­ture Margo (Mi­randa Cos­grove), the mis­chievous Edith (Dana Gaier) and the adorable, uni­corn-crazed Agnes (Nev Schar­rel) — Gru jets off to the cheese-lov­ing is­land na­tion of Free­do­nia (spare a thought for the Marx Brothers), where Dru dwells in ba­ro­nial splen­dor and over­sees a thriv­ing pig farm. Gru is ini­tially jeal­ous of Dru, who has the same beaky nose and Slavic-ad­ja­cent ac­cent, but sports a Fabio-like mop of hair in lieu of a bald pate.

The jeal­ousy is mis­placed. Although he’s ob­sessed with fol­low­ing in his brother’s once-vil­lain­ous foot­steps, Dru ba­si­cally turns out to be a stu­pider, whinier ver­sion of Gru, test­ing the au­di­ence’s pa­tience and the up­per lim­its of Carell’s vo­cal reg­is­ter in equal mea­sure.

The movie ex­tracts some wit from the im­age of the brothers in their black and white suits, a yin-and-yang flour­ish that brings “Spy vs. Spy” to the mind, but that kind of quiet deft­ness is oth­er­wise be­yond this movie’s abil­i­ties. (If you didn’t no­tice, for ex­am­ple, that Dru’s ceil­ing is painted to re­sem­ble the Sis­tine Chapel but with pigs, rest as­sured that some­one will pipe up, “It’s like the Sis­tine Chapel but with pigs!”)

Some movies are so hap­haz­ard that they seem to have been cre­ated by throw­ing stuff at a wall and us­ing what­ever sticks. The “Despicable Me” films rep­re­sent an even more sin­gu­lar achieve­ment: They seem to have been cob­bled to­gether from the things that don’t stick. Far from achiev­ing the kind of in­spired comic lu­nacy that the bet­ter Pixar and Dream­Works ti­tles some­times man­age, “Despicable Me 3” seems de­lib­er­ate in its dis­joint­ed­ness, its slop­pi­ness will­fully achieved.

And also, some­how, ut­terly for­mu­laic. In ad­di­tion to the blah spec­ta­cle of Gru and Dru plow­ing through the streets in a mas­sive gad­get-laden ve­hi­cle or launch­ing a se­cret raid on Bratt’s hide­away, we will be treated to the sort of re­me­dial par­ent­ing lessons that bring old “Full House” re­runs to mind. The most in­sult­ing of these is lev­eled at Lucy, whose first ex­pe­ri­ence as a step­mother in­volves sort­ing out some boy trou­ble with Margo and, of course, keep­ing a safe dis­tance from the ac­tion while the men go off and play.

I re­al­ize I’ve barely men­tioned the Min­ions, which is fit­ting given that they seem more or less like an af­ter­thought. Af­ter go­ing from scene-steal­ing sideshow to main at­trac­tion in their 2015 stand-alone fea­ture (also di­rected by Cof­fin and Balda), per­haps these chat­ter­ing over­grown corn ker­nels felt the need for some down­time.

Tired of Gru’s iden­tity cri­sis and crav­ing the com­forts of old-fash­ioned vil­lainy, the Min­ions re­sign in protest and spend much of the movie off by them­selves, ut­terly obliv­i­ous to their for­mer master and his lat­est round of im­be­cilic mis­ad­ven­tures.

You may miss them a bit, but you’ll envy them more.

Il­lu­mi­na­tion and Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

GRU’S DAUGH­TERS Margo (voiced by Mi­randa Cos­grove), left, Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Schar­rel) in “Despicable Me 3.”

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