For a review of “Despicable Me 3,”
Back in 2010, Illumination Entertainment released the Minions into theworld via the first “Despicable Me” film. They were the supporting characters to reformed supervillain Gru ( Steve Carell). But it was the impudent little yellow creatures— their featureless bodies shaped like rubbery tater tots, chattering gibberish language somewhere between Italian and alien, with bawdy senses of humor — who invaded our minds, hearts, homes and memes, and became a cultural phenomenon. Thingswere never the same again. Yellow took on a newmeaning.
Although the Minions now have their own film ( of the same name), they still pull back- up duty in the “Despicable Me” franchise, and yes, they are some what awkwardly shoehorned into “Despicable Me3,” a service able stop on the inevitable way to “Despicable Me4.” As a couple of hours of kid tertainment, you could do worse, but it’s nothing to write home about.
“Despicable Me 3,” directed by Pierre Coffin, Eric Guillon and Kyle Balda, written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, relies on pre- established audience familiarity with the characters and universe of the franchise, and then just throws subplots on top of subplots on top of that. Each story is so shallow that it feels like a series of shorts, with only the flimsiest of narrative threads stitching the whole thing together.
Two new characters are introduced in this third installment: Balthazar Bratt, voiced by Trey Parker, is the antagonist, a washed up child actor from the ’ 80s turned super- villain, with a serious axe to grind against the industry that rejected him as a pimply, pubescent teen. He’s got a mullet, a keytar, a purple suit with shoulder pads, and one heckof a music licensing budget ( it’s packed with snippets of hits from Michael Jackson to Van Halen). The other new character is a sidekick, Dru ( also Steve Carell), Gru’s longlost twin brother.
After losing their jobs, Gru, wife, Lucy ( Kristen Wiig) and their girls head to Fredonia to meet Dru, the head of the family pig farming business, which is actually a front for super- villainy, except Dru is terrible at it. While Grushows himthe ropes, thewomen-folk sample the local Fredonian culture, and go unicorn hunting. Eventually, it all comes together as they have to unite to fight Balthazar, who is intent on destroying Hollywood with bubble gum and lasers.
As for the Minions, unsatisfied with Gru’s domestic bliss, they go to jail, in one of the film’s most random subplots, after they invade a singing competition. It gives them something to do, and it gives the studio the opportunity for some seriously questionable marketing decisions — because nothing says family fun like jokes about America’s prison culture. That’s pretty despicable, in fact.
Parker’s ’ 80s- inspired super- villain is probably the most entertaining part of the film, aside from perhaps the Fredonian cheese festival. But “Despicable Me 3” is somehow less than the sum of its parts. The shrill, raspyvoiced shouting from Carell and Parker turn into a jumble of noise, and it’s difficult to pick out punchlines. The whole thing might as well all be written in Minions chatter. It’s wacky, but somehow dull, kind of like conversing with a Minion.
“Despicable me 3,” an Illumnation Entertainment release, is rated PG for action and rude humor. Running time: 90 minutes. ½
It’s an action musical. It’s a crime tragicomedy. It’s awesome.
“Baby Driver” is a triumph of road- smoking wheels, high- caliber gun battles, unrelenting thrills and unexpected laughs. It rockets more visceral excitement and solid narrative in a slick, nitro- fueled 112 minutes than seems humanly possible. The sheer wackiness of the film leaves the “Fast and Furious” franchise jealously sucking its exhaust.
The story features a flock of cool baddies and hot lovebirds. Ansel Elgort delivers a “remember that name” performance and movie star smile as Baby, the fresh- faced young wheel man of an Atlanta crime cartel. His earbuds almost never leave his ears, switching between a collection of oldschool iPods, each packed with a mix of jams for different moods. They help drown out the noisy tinnitus he developed following a childhood traffic accident. The beats also help him creatively choreograph the clutch grinding and brake stomping in his driving stunts.
The film opens with a breakneck, car- crunching highway escape sequence, seamlessly edited to the beat of “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The track’s two- minute building intro is a perfect fit for the driver waiting for the end of his passengers’ bank heist. When the rock ’ n’ roll really kicks in, it’s getaway time. We flow to a smooth, lengthy tracking shot as Baby goes slip- slide romping along a downtown street in perfect sync with Bob & Earl’s smooth “Harlem Shuffle.” On most of the buildings and walls he passes, key words from the song lyrics are hidden in posters and graffiti, each popping into view precisely on cue.
The people inside the story are as winningly intricate as the soundtrack. Almost everyone in the cast leaves a scary- comic impression. The young antihero, Baby, was forced into his job as an unarmed speed racer by Doc ( Kevin Spacey), a criminal mastermind who’s both stern and remarkably fair- minded. Even in a cast of multilayered characters, he stands out, the sort of felon who will set up a major heist while babysitting his little nephew, who has precocious rip- off tendencies of his own. Spacey delivers some of the script’s funniest lines, reacting to the commonplace romantic issues faced by one of his crime crew with a deadpan, “I was in love once.”
Doc’s bank robbing crew includes Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm and the runt- ish Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They’re all entirely committed as trigger men with various levels of hotheaded, coldblooded psychosis. Wright makes them individual, multidimensional and layered, even those who are on- screen for only a few scenes. The sole character who needs serious expanding is a wispy, vanilla- flavored plot device named Debora ( Lily James, who does her best to sell it), a fetching coffee shop waitress who inspires Baby to plan his own getaway from the criminal underworld.
It’s a risky lifestyle. Much of “Baby Driver” is focused on whether any of the characters will stay alive throughthe next epic police gun battle or rocketing getaway demolition derby. Edited with surgical precision to the soundtrack’s pop gems, the melees are not the endless, numbing sequences featured in too many films. These clashes are gorgeously constructed, the mind- blowing fluidity of their combat serving as a sort of setup, and the final blow as the punchline. As Baby’s plan to abscond and undermine the operation emerges, he’s in a lot of gun sights.
Luckily, Wright knows when to take a break and add a little economical storytelling so we can catch our breath. He’s a master of building cinematic castles on genre foundations, as in his cult hits “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End.” Here he uses familiar action ingredients to create a unique mashup. Wright turns a potentially minor heist and getaway movie into a symphonic catalog of pop music. The songs are rhythmically synchronized to every on- tempo move and technical effect inside of each shot.
“Baby Driver” is loyal to the rhythms and rules of ’ 70s and ’ 60s entertainment, blessedly favoring real car stunts over CGI. As you might guess, by the time it gets to the end, the body count is high, the blood is spraying like Coke and Mentos and, as always, there is one more twist. It’s cheesy at heart, but this is artisanal, gourmet cheese— sharp, flavorful and plated with exquisite artistic skill.
“Baby Driver,” a Tri-Star Pictures release, is rated R for violence and profanity. Running time: 113 minutes.
Ansel Elgort, left, and Kevin Spacey star in “Baby Driver.”