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Movie Review: “Despicable Me 4” Now Playing at Boone Regal

By Bob Garver

For a franchise that has been fairly consistent with its style of PG animated humor, the “Despicable Me” movies are kind of all over the place for me. I couldn’t stand the first one, loved the second one, thought the first “Minions” spinoff had its moments, felt the shtick was stale for the third one, and was pleasantly surprised by the second “Minions.” Now comes the fourth entry chronologically from the first, the sixth in the series overall. Unfortunately, I found this one to be on the lower end of the spectrum. It didn’t send me into a days-long depression over the state of family entertainment like the original did, but it is quite possibly the worst since the first. 

The new movie finds reformed supervillain Gru (Steve Carell, his Eastern-European accent as grating as ever) at odds with his old high school rival, the coackroach-obsessed Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell). The very idea of a high school for aspiring supervillains is cooler than anything onscreen here, and since this series likes to do prequels, it might be a good idea to set one there. Gru and his new colleagues in the Anti-Villain League are able to imprison Maxime, but he escapes and vows revenge on Gru and his family, especially his new baby. 

The family is forced to go into hiding, and everybody has little B-stories where they try to start a new life in a posh neighborhood under new identities. Wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) tries to become a hairdresser with disastrous results. Middle daughter Edith (Dana Gaier) stands up for little sister Agnes (Madison Polan) at karate class. Oldest daughter Margot (Miranda Cosgrove)… gets about three lines. Gru tries to endear himself to his snooty neighbor (Steven Colbert), but ends up getting blackmailed into pulling a heist with the neighbor’s aspiring-villain daughter Poppy (Joey King). The movie could have had a more positive message by having Gru teach Poppy that a life of villainy is not the way to go, but no, she’s validated and wants to be a supervillain as much as ever by the film’s end. 

The Minions (all voiced by Pierre Coffin) get their own subplot where some of them are given superpowers by AVL boss Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan). This thread doesn’t work for me because the Minions were already non-human without many physical limitations anyway, so giving them superpowers just seems like a lateral move. Example: one of them gets the power to stretch. Okay, but another Minion, one that isn’t given superpowers, gets stuffed into a vending machine and spends the entire movie living there. Seems to me the Minions were pretty stretchy already. 

Almost all of the spoken jokes are terrible – painful, even. I think there was a logic that if Carell and Ferrell (or Carell/Colbert) were just allowed to be in a scene together, the chemistry they’ve shown in other projects would just punch up the material automatically. There was admittedly something of a precedent for this, as Carell’s chemistry with longtime collaborator Alan Arkin did elevate the last “Minions” movie, but that’s not the case here. This isn’t a rewarding reunion of Ron Burgandy and Brick Tamland. Nor does the movie capitalize on the potential for a Gru/Megamind crossover, even though both characters starred in 2010 animated movies about supervillains turning their lives around. 

“Despicable Me 4” is too innocuous to make me truly mad, and the animation is as bouncy and pleasing as ever. The new baby is undeniably adorable and I thought the visual physical gags hit at an agreeable rate. A wheelchair equipped with monster truck tires got me giggling, I’ll admit it. But it’s clear that very little attention was given to the script, and characters and storylines are underdeveloped even for the low bar I have for this series. I seriously doubt that this movie is going to turn any fans off of the “Despicable Me”/”Minions” franchise, but I even more seriously doubt that it’s going to turn around anybody that wasn’t a fan already. 

Grade: C-