by Bob Garver
Jan. 27, 2014. Thanks a lot, “I, Frankenstein.” On Friday I paid $14.50 to see the weekend’s only new wide release thinking it would have to be #1 at the weekend box office, or at least make the most money of any movie I hadn’t reviewed yet. It bombed, coming in sixth place. In order to see the highest-ranking holdover, I had to scramble and see the animated kids’ movie “The Nut Job,” which came in third behind “Ride Along” and “Lone Survivor.” I guess it’s a good thing, since “I, Frankenstein” would have been a one-star review for sure while “The Nut Job” is at least good for one and a half.
Our main character is a jerk of a squirrel all too appropriately named Surly (Will Arnett). He only looks out for himself, using his superior nut-thieving skills to feed himself without sharing with any of the other animals in his park (he does have a friendly rat sidekick Buddy, but he gets a much smaller share). Surly botches a heist of a nut cart (his non-plan makes for the funniest gag in the movie) and destroys the meager food supply of the other animals right before winter. He’s banished from the park and forced to live in the city, where he discovers an entire nut store owned by some humans who want to rob a bank next door.
The problem is that if he wants to rob the store properly, he’ll need some help from the park animals who don’t trust him and some of whom have plans to double cross him anyway. All the bickering about dividing the nuts seems pretty pointless since no squirrel or other small animal could ever eat a fraction of the nuts in the store, or in the smaller cart for that matter.
The film has the annoying habit of giving the squirrels unique names while most of the other animals just have animal names. Squirrels include Andie (Katherine Heigl) who is compassionate and sees the potential for good in Surly, Grayson (Brendon Fraser), an inept would-be hero who only slows down Surly and Andie. Raccoon (Liam Neeson) is the leader of the park and Mole (Jeff Dunham) is his constantly flip-flopping assistant. There’s also a sychophantic guard dog voiced by Maya Rudolph who seems to be the only one not sleepwalking her way through her performance.
Most of the gags are just painful. I hope you like puns where “nuts” is used to mean crazy because there’s a lot of them. Humor involving bodily functions comes up more than I like, which is to say that it comes up at all. And of course it wouldn’t be a terrible kids’ movie if the animals didn’t dance not once but twice to “Gangnam Style.” No kidding. The story comes to a complete stop so they can have a pointless dance sequence right in the middle of the movie. I bucked out of the theatre while they were dancing during the credits and was disappointed with how many eyes were still glued to the screen.
The plot is a mess. The characters’ loyalties change by the minute and that goes both for the animals and the humans robbing the bank next to the nut shop. Speaking of humans, the movie can never decide if they know just how clever the animals are. Even worse than the overall plot are the disjointed action sequences, where the characters’ positions in relation to each other are subject to change without notice.
The movie isn’t particularly good at anything. The story is incoherent, the voice actors have no chemistry and the humor plays to the lowest common denominator. Very young kids might like it, but it isn’t the kind of movie you can enjoy alongside them. It’s hard to hate a harmless movie about animated squirrels, but “The Nut Job” comes really close.
One and a half stars out of five.