The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Na­ture

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - DAN LYBARGER

To do jus­tice to The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Na­ture, I’m go­ing to follow the ad­vice of Thumper the rab­bit from an­other an­i­mated movie called Bambi. He coun­sels view­ers, “If you can’t say some­thing nice, don’t say noth­ing at all.”

The peo­ple who tried to bring car­toon ro­dents to life in this film prob­a­bly need a hug or some­thing pos­i­tive to strive for be­cause their movie can best be de­scribed as an op­por­tu­nity for con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment. Di­rec­tor Cal Brunker and his co­horts can sleep well at night know­ing they have nowhere to go but up.

Brunker has con­trib­uted to a lot of good films like De­spi­ca­ble Me (where he worked as a sto­ry­board artist), so we can be grate­ful that he con­served his tal­ent for movies like those and didn’t waste it on the sec­ond in­stall­ment of Surly Squir­rel’s (voice of Will Ar­nett) seem­ingly end­less search for nuts and legumes.

Ar­nett was a riot as the self-ab­sorbed Lego Bat­man, but this time around he has been freed of the bur­den of be­ing funny by screen­writ­ers who don’t waste their time find­ing re­deem­ing traits for Surly or even com­ing up with zingers like the ones he de­liv­ered as a bat in­stead of a squir­rel. In what may be the best line reading of her ca­reer, Kather­ine Heigl (as fel­low varmint Andie) per­fectly en­cap­su­lates the film when she tells Ar­nett, “You’re not as funny as you think you are.”

When the nut shop that fronted for a hide­out for bank rob­bers in the first

movie blows up (it thank­fully doesn’t mat­ter why), Surly and Andie have to find new food sources. They can’t for­age Lib­erty Park be­cause Oak­town’s Mayor (former SNL comic Bobby Moyni­han) wants to turn the tax-guz­zling park into a profit-spew­ing amuse­ment park.

Oak­town is a unique com­mu­nity. The con­struc­tion work­ers speak in Noo Yawk “Dees Dem Dose” ac­cents while the Mayor speaks in a quasi-South­ern drawl. Nei­ther will con­fuse chil­dren with any hint of au­then­tic­ity. Sim­i­larly, view­ers who like their ser­mons against gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate greed de­liv­ered with the sub­tlety of a Hiroshima blast will have their prayers an­swered here.

The prod­uct place­ment for Blue Di­a­mond smoked almonds is not hypocrisy at all be­cause it’s a pleas­ant re­minder of some­thing one might do rather than watch the film. I had a sam­ple handed to me at the screen­ing, and if you’re hard up for cash, you have just the de­li­cious almonds if you wish. The movie will likely be free on YouTube shortly.

In some se­quels, the char­ac­ters grow or change, but Nutty by Na­ture doesn’t bur­den view­ers with hav­ing to guess how char­ac­ters have changed be­cause they’re just as ir­ri­tat­ing as they were in the pre­vi­ous in­stall­ment. Some of my peers lamented that it was hard to watch The Nut Job be­cause Surly was such a nar­cis­sis­tic oaf.

Ac­tu­ally, the film­mak­ers have ex­panded their range here. The first film had sev­eral gags in­volv­ing flat­u­lence, but the new film has moved on to other pop­u­lar dis­charges.

If you made a bet that Step­pen­wolf’s “Born to Be Wild” would make it into the sound­track, you can re­joice be­cause some­one re­mem­bered how it was used to bet­ter ef­fect in Easy Rider and Lost in Amer­ica, so the mu­sic can re­mind you of more en­ter­tain­ing films.

Jackie Chan gets to play a mouse that looks like all the other mice in the movie, but it’s fit­ting that a man who has bro­ken just about ev­ery bone in his body to en­ter­tain view­ers ac­tu­ally gives it his all here. As with his Hong Kong films, there are out­takes of him flubbing a line or two. His ded­i­ca­tion is en­dear­ing.

The sight of a few sec­onds of him strug­gling to turn his in­sipid di­a­logue into com­edy gold al­most atones for the footage that pre­ceded it. It’s as­ton­ish­ing how close he comes to an alchemy that the other film­mak­ers can’t quite achieve.

Maybe Thumper could have come up with a nicer way to say that.

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Na­ture.

Jackie Chan voices Mr. Feng — one of these iden­ti­cal-look­ing mice — in the an­i­mated

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