Having seen many of my most-anticipated movies of summer that have been released so far, I’m now catching “other” flicks that are out there. It’s a great way to beat the heat, which is hanging around those triple digits here in Arizona.

I recently re-watched Despicable Me (2010), which is SO adorable and beautifully made, with plenty of adult jokes thrown in. One my favorites is the sign, “Bank of Evil (Formerly Lehman Brothers).” My mom watched with me and instantly fell in love with the minions.  So, we had to go see Despicable Me 2. The theater was filled with kids (well-behaved ones!) on a day-camp field trip, and it was precious to hear them laugh and mimic the minions.

Then a friend wanted to see White House Down, which I hadn’t planned to watch at all. You know, it’s kind of like reading whatever the book club chooses as the book of the month—you get to explore tomes you might not have picked up otherwise.

So here are some thoughts about these mid-July movies.

176.image.despicable-me-2-posterDespicable Me 2

Where do you go with a story once the villain’s heart has been transformed, Scrooge-like or Grinch-esque? Our antihero, Gru, went from venomous villain to doting daddy in the first film, and I wondered what the sequel could possibly contain to justify his still being called “despicable.”

despicable-me-2_17Well, Gru isn’t exactly despicable anymore—that would be a step backwards—but he does continue in his habit of thinking he can outsmart others, often failing. In this way, the writers hit the nail on the head to help make the character able to transform once more, without actually taking him back to attempting any dastardly deeds. And the character grows in other ways: he actually has a love interest, and he helps to foil the plotting of another arch-villain. Nice, and nowhere near despicable.

Despicable-Me-2-081The real achievement of the sequel, though, is exploiting moviegoers’ obsession with the minions, those lovable yet rough-around-the-edges little yellow pill people from another planet. They are the stars of this movie. I’d say I predict a spinoff, but it’s already a done deal: the movie Minions is in preproduction for release in 2014.

To me, the first film was better if simply for the facts that the characters were new for audiences and the initial premise of Gru going from despicable to lovable was achieved. I also found the original more effective at including some adult-aimed funnies, something I’ve always appreciated in my animation (Bugs Bunny cartoons perhaps did it best).

25070440Still, this sequel has the same wonderful voice cast (including Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Kristen Wiig, and Julie Andrews) with a few additions (like Benjamin Bratt), plus the increased involvement of those weird and wacky little minions. It’s fast-paced, good for laughs, and includes something for all ages. What more could you want from a summer flick?

B+

 

white-house-downWhite House Down

This is a typical Hollywood action movie, and there is not much more to say about it. It’s basically Die Hard (kick-ass dad saves the day) meets Independence Day (White House blows up), but with none of the heart or remarkable characters of those iconic films. The plot is predictable and regurgitated, the premise is much less shocking than today’s real-life headlines, and the fact that there is a black president in the white house—well, that’s been done already too.

215561-White-House-Down-Poster1As a vehicle for Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, and propelling young Joey King into the limelight, it does its job. The effects are grand, the action is fast, and everyone in it does a decent job of portraying their superficially sketched characters. But the problem is that everything is just tossed lightly together, like a summer salad, with the obvious intent of just getting it overwith and getting on with the action scenes. 1183878 - WHITE HOUSE DOWNOnly then is much more attention paid to the crashes, the explosions, and Tatum’s abs flying across the screen.  It might as well just be one long trailer for all the character development and story depth we get.

White-house-down-james-woodsCaught in vortex of what’s lacking are veteran actors like James Woods and Richard Jenkins.  Personally, I cringe when this happens—the misuse of genuine talent is a real crime in my book.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is either miscast or else she realized her role was lean and phoned it in, and Rachelle Lefevre is completely wasted in her miniscule role.

As often happens in not-so-awesome movies, one seemingly less-important character really stood: Nicholas Wright plays Donnie the tour guide with emotional honesty and humorous abandon. I expect we’ll see more of this young man who has, up until now, mainly appeared in TV movies and series.  white-house-down-cale-emily-donnie

As you might expect, with this “Summer Sizzlers” series being all about entertaining summer movies, this film gets somewhat of a pass simply for being an engaging action movie at a time when  many of us desire such mindless distraction. This one is almost good enough to meet that need. Luckily, there are much more substantial action films out there or coming soon that can satisfy our hunger after this fluffy but innutritious morsel.

C

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