TWITTER: The Month of Meh continues with the forgettable @TheNutJobMovie.
The Month of Meh - also known as January - has typically been the Hollywood equivalent of The Island of Forgotten Toys: cast-off creatures too freakish for the Oscar season and not worthy enough for even Summer consideration. And while there have been exceptions - last year's Gangster Squad, and 2012' Contraband - January's releases are confined to live in the wasteland of digital media before being summarily dismissed to obscurity. The well-meaning but utterly forgettable animated flick The Nut Job is just such a film, mildly funny in parts but missing any semblance of a soul or sense of itself.
Precocious squirrel Surly (voiced by Will Arnett) doesn't get along with his fellow animals in the fictitious 1959 Liberty Park. After accidentally destroying their food supply, Surly is banished to the streets by the self-proclaimed leader Raccoon (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the other park-dwellers, who see Surly as too aggressive, too greedy in search for nuts as winter approaches, and utterly without feelings. Once on the other side, Surly is quickly under human feet and chased by the local thug rats before he stumbles upon the Maury's Nut Shop, which is nothing more than a front for a mob ring planning to steal from a local bank. With a treasure trove of food awaiting him, Surly must decide whether he'll take it all himself or succumb to his conscience to help the park dwellers, including Andie (voiced by Katherine Heigl), wanna-be hero Grayson (voiced by Brendan Fraser), and the mob's pug guard dog Precious (voiced by Maya Rudolph).
On paper, Nut Job seems to have all the pieces: a veteran cast and gorgeous animation that's a tip-of-the-hat to the heydays of Looney Toons, but it never seems to gel. The cast is uninspired - apparently confined to speak their lines in separate rooms - the script by Writer Lorne Cameron misses good moments for character development, and the well-intentioned slapstick falls fitfully short. None of the era charm is here, replaced with puns about nuts and expelling of bodily gases that get old fast. There's never the sense that the animals won't win, as our mob guys are so completely oblivious to their scheme, and so the story never takes on any real tension. Nor do we ever learn why Raccoon has become an Animal Farm oppressor or why Surly is so distrusting of people. Perhaps Director Peter Lepeniotis never considered such a deeper angle, but the final result is less than it could have been. There's also the oddly-placed appearance of artist Psy and his "Gangham Style" theme in the credits; perhaps this is the Korean influence hoping to resurrect this one-hit wonder?
This movie has a chance to make a profit (the Canadian-Korean collaboration only cost $43 million to make), but its highly digestible content does come at a price. Moviegoers will notice an air of familiarity here, from Ice Age's Scrat (Surly), to Remy from Ratatouille (Surly's mostly-mute rat sidekick), and the 'scheming rogue' script is similar to Cameron's earlier work Over the Hedge. True, it's nearly impossible these days to distinguish characters from one movie to another, but there's too much here that we've literally seen done better elsewhere. Nut Job gets away with it by giving us gorgeous period-era animation that would have looked good on Blu-ray, if we could recommend it. Sadly, we can't.
The Nut Job is a perfect Netflix candidate for when the kids need an afternoon diversion, and mom and dad need a break from their kids. And while the animation is gorgeous and its leads appealing on paper, the result is utterly forgettable and even borders on plagiarism. It's digestible and might even make a profit, but that doesn't mean we recommend it. The Nut Job is rated PG and has a runtime of 86 minutes.
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