“The Nut Job 2”: Stale jokes and slap­stick

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Pat Padua Open Road Films

★★55 Rated PG. 95 min­utes.

The an­i­mated film “The Nut Job” and its new se­quel, like many a movie be­fore them with the theme of man vs. na­ture, de­picts a world in which grotesque hu­mans are ul­ti­mately ren­dered pow­er­less by an­i­mals (in this case, those of the cute, talk­ing, saucer-eyed va­ri­ety). Unfortunately, de­spite its adorable he­roes, you’d have to be nutty to sit through “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Na­ture,” a largely un­en­gag­ing mod­ern-day an­i­mal fa­ble.

The saga picks up some time af­ter the first film left off, with Surly the pur­ple squir­rel (voice of Will Ar­nett) and his friends hav­ing be­come com­pla­cent af­ter gain­ing free rein over an aban­doned nut shop and its seem­ingly un­lim­ited sup­ply of food. Mean­while, across the street from this site of feral bac­cha­na­lia, an in­dus­tri­ous squir­rel named Andie (Kather­ine Heigl) strug­gles to teach her chil­dren to work for their food, scroung­ing for nuts in Lib­erty Park.

The para­ble of ro­dent work ethics only goes so far when an ex­plo­sion in the boiler room de­stroys the nut shop, leav­ing the an­i­mals to fend for them­selves in the nearby park. But even that food source is threat­ened when the town’s mayor (Bobby Moyni­han) de­cides to re­place the un­prof­itable na­ture pre­serve with a mon­ey­mak­ing amuse­ment park. Do our tiny an­i­mal pro­tag­o­nists have any hope of con­quer­ing the in­dus­trial jug­ger­naut of hu­man busi­ness in­ter­ests? What do you think?

If the well-worn premise of this furry David-andGo­liath tale had any po­ten­tial, it’s un­der­mined by a screen­play (by di­rec­tor Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen) that over-ex­plains ev­ery one of Surly’s stale jokes and prat­falls, mak­ing them even less funny than they al­ready are. For ex­am­ple, af­ter Surly slams into a mail­box, he has to stop and clar­ify that he did not see it com­ing. Is it churl­ish to com­plain about the ex­e­cu­tion of slap­stick hu­mor in a chil­dren’s movie? Per­haps so, but comic tim­ing is an art — one that, ap­par­ently, has eluded the film­mak­ers.

The movie slips in a bit of sen­ti­ment here and there, with a love story in­volv­ing two dogs (Bobby Can­navale and Maya Ru­dolph) and a touch­ing flashback to Surly’s life­long friend­ship with a mostly mute rat (Tom Kenny). Oth­er­wise, the fam­ily-friendly ac­tion is tired and pre­dictable.

“Nutty by Na­ture” comes to life, how­ever briefly, when­ever a white mouse named Mr. Feng (Jackie Chan) ap­pears onscreen, com­mand­ing his army of ver­min. The movie’s end cred­its even fea­ture an­i­mated “out­takes” of the sort that Chan likes to add to the end of his live-ac­tion movies. If the pro­duc­ers of “Nutty” had any sense, they would have handed the whole movie over to him.

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