Mark Reviews Movies

The Nut Job


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Peter Lepeniotis

Cast: The voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Liam Neeson, Brendan Fraser, Stephen Lang, Jeff Dunham, Gabriel Iglesias, Sarah Gadon, James Rankin, Scott Yaphe, Joe Pingue, Annick Obonsawin

MPAA Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Running Time: 1:26

Release Date: 1/17/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 17, 2014

First of all, the title is a pun that doesn't make sense in context. Yes, there are humans planning a bank robbery and animals planning to rob the robbers of their food, but the only crazy people/creatures here might be those who believed this material could have worked with such minimal effort. It's safe to assume, in fact, that screenwriters Lorne Cameron and director Peter Lepeniotis aren't entirely certain what a pun is. Despite prevalent usage of that lowest form of humor throughout The Nut Job, the one time a character acknowledges the joke, he dubs it a "double entendre." It is a talking squirrel, though, so perhaps we must give him a little leeway.

The same cannot be afforded the movie, which sputters through one setup before coming to a sudden stop and labors to start up another struggling premise, and it does this again and again. The essential problem is in a way a tonal one, but that's only because the movie awkwardly tries to force together two completely dissimilar extremes. On the one hand, there is a cheerful cartoon with broadly defined characters, and on the other is a rather grave plot that involves double-crosses, love made impossible in the face of betrayal, car chases and shootouts, the physical assault of a young girl, and a plan to steal enough in one, last robbery before getting out of a life of crime.

That's just the humans in this movie. The cute, little cartoon animals actually have a much rougher go of it.

The story revolves around a purple, libertarian squirrel named Surly (voice of Will Arnett), who is exactly what his name implies. He's a recluse, gathering as much food as he can before the other animals that live in a park in the city can get to it to store in a tree for the oncoming winter. He has no need for others, save for his buddy, who happens to be a rat named Buddy. The two attempt to raid a peanut stand, and Surly winds up destroying the tree and any hope that the other helpless creatures will make it through the winter without starving to death.

While it remains my firm belief that movies aimed at children should treat their target audience with a level of intelligence, there must be a line. There's scene after the immolation of the tree in which a conscientious squirrel debates the merits of a fair trial by jury with a totalitarian raccoon who would rather do away with due process and issue an edict of punishment, enforced by a popular vote among the adorable, fuzzy creatures of the park. This scene takes a running start at wherever the aforementioned line is and leaps. The complete absence of any sort of awareness for the audience—of any age—in this scene is quite confounding, really, and it's just the start.

Anyway, Surly is banished to the city, where he gets into a string of accidents that firmly establish we are dealing with a world of cartoon physics. After being flattened against the side of a truck, a brick nearly castrates Surly (We should be grateful that, for as many times as characters proclaim the word "nuts," it does not come up in this instance). Another brick crushes his skull, and he calmly responds with mild irritation. Later on, a stick of dynamite explodes near a group of animals and leaves their hair singed.

The plot involves Surly's plan to steal nuts from a nut shop, where a group of 1930s-style gangsters are using the store as a cover to tunnel into the vault of a bank across the street. Andie (voice of Katherine Heigl), the conscientious squirrel, finds out and convinces Surly to negotiate with Raccoon (voice of Liam Neeson), the power-hungry—well—raccoon, to split the haul for everyone's benefit. That's when a surprising number of the animals become involved in various schemes to kill off any possible troublemakers or frame Surly for crimes, like the drowning murders of a pair of groundhogs. Again, we're not talking about the gangsters, who have their own little melodrama playing out in the background, but the adorable, fluffy critters.

If the previous evidence isn't enough to convince one that The Nut Job is a terribly ill-advised and bafflingly tone deaf movie, it is also worth noting that the park's hero squirrel Grayson (voice of an admirably goofy Brendan Fraser) suffers from debilitating brain damage. Also, there's a scene where one rascally creature tortures another, but that's clearly what someone believes kids want.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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