The Nut Job Review
Sometimes you feel like a nut, but after this movie you won’t.
It’s a weird phenomenon that occurs for me whenever I go to see a kids film I know ahead of time is supposed to suck. I walk in with my talons out and my canines sharpened in anticipation of mauling the latest crime against developing children’s brains but then as the other kiddie movie trailers start rolling by I feel myself ease up on it. “It’s a kids movie for Christs sake” I can hear myself think. “It has cartoons and celebrity voices. How bad could it possibly be?”
Well, two hours pass and by the end of it I usually have my answer. In most cases it’s the writing and super pandering nature but oddly enough in this film it’s the characters. You see, most movies (grown up films included) have what is commonly known as a protagonist. This mythological creature is generally made to be somehow likeable and sympathetic. The goal is to have the audience identify and connect with this individual in an attempt to make us care about what happens to him or her and thus enjoy the movie.
Such doddering outdated movie concepts are too old school for director Peter Lepeniotis, the David Lynch of children movies. Instead of creating a character we can all like he seems to be set on creating the most unlikable cartoon character since Scrappy Doo. Surly Squirrel has a reprehensible selfish personality, speaks the dialog of a sociopathic mafia hit man, has the voice characterization of a sexual predator (sorry Will Arnett. I actually am a fan of yours but you play creepy jerks the best and thanks to this film I now know it’s mostly your voice), and looks literally like a diseased rodent. There is nothing to like about him and you spend most of the film hoping he gets run over. For that matter why name him Surly unless you wanted us to hate him?
This failure in the art and casting department carries over to the rest of the cast as well. Surly’s best friend Buddy (oh, I see what they did there) is a mute rat who looks like the cartoon equivalent of a meth addict. The girl (not really love interest. No such thing as romance here) squirrel is a shrill version of Surly with a conscious, the bad guy oozes evil on the screen with every syllable, most of the rest of the crew are attempting to see who remembers the Three Stooges, and the human villains are ridiculous caricatures. The only character even remotely likeable was the dog Precious.
Which brings us to another point: the dialog. One of the reasons Precious was likeable was because she was the only animal in this movie about cute animals that was remotely cute and said animal-like things such as “I’m going to lick your face”. The rest of them spoke like cast members of the Sophranos. This disparity between visual and audio I found really confusing and it hurt my brain. If you are going to do cute go with cute dialog and voice characterizations. Don’t discuss your food inventory level like the a scene out of Boiler Room. Are they smart as humans or just dopey animals? The needle kept flipping back and forth, usually just in time to provide a key point to advance the script.
Ironically the script wasn’t unredeemable. If they had stayed away from making this a character study of the character equivalent of a blood fluke and focused on a cool “Animals do a daring burglary and steal a ton of nuts” story it would have been a lot better. However the director has only both written and directed two films; this one and a short called Surly Squirrel. It appears this character is his baby and no one puts baby in a corner. Not on his watch.
Sigh. The story. Surly Squirrel (Will Arnett-Arrested Development, Despicable Me, Hot Rod (as proof of my fandom I did not even have to look at his filmography to pull those three great items)) and his side-rat Buddy live in a park. The park is effectively some kind of socialist food collective (almost a farm for animals of some kind) wherein everyone pools all the food they collect during the summer and rations it out during the winter. This is all done at the behest of Racoon (Liam Neeson-the Grey, Taken, Schindler’s List), who apparently doesn’t rate his own name. Surly and Buddy refuse to participate, taking an every-rodent-for-themselves approach. The rest of the park is dangerously low on food (Missing nuts image courtesy of the Funny T Shirt category)
They spot a nut cart on the sidewalk. Andy (Katherine Heigl-A Big Wedding, New Years Eve, One for the Money. Wow. A trifecta of crappy movies. Why can’t you find something worthy of your talent Katherine? Although based on the rumors I hear regarding your interaction with other movie professionals I could probably hazard a guess) is the local smart squirrel and is sent out with macho yet dumb squirrel Grayson (In case you are having trouble telling all the squirrels apart Grayson is the gray one. Oh wait, I see what they did there. Brandon Fraser-Escape from Planet Earth, Bedazzled, Breakout) to loot the cart but Surly and Buddy beat them to it.
They get into a tiff and manage to ignite the propane tank of the cart, sending it careening into the tree where the park collective has stored all the food. The winter supply is completely destroyed. Surly gets blamed and is banished from the park into the city.
Meanwhile it turns out the guy pushing the nut cart was part of a gang casing a bank for a robbery. They have taken over a nut shop and are using it as cover. Surly spots the nut shop and sees it as his opportunity to eat himself into coma. At the same time Grayson and Andy are sent out in the city in a desperate attempt to find more food. They run into Surly and opt to go in on the robbery together.
At that point the story kind of teeters off. They make multiple attempts (this is where the Three Stooges get channeled in) and make friends with a cute pug named Precious (Maya Rudolph-Turbo, Idiocracy, Bridesmaids) after torturing her with a dog whistle. Turns out one of their park friends is actually evil (Racoon, OK. It was Racoon. Sorry for the spoiler but if you didn’t see that coming you must still be putting your hand in the campfire just to make sure it still burns) and has a bizarre convoluted plan for no apparent reason. There is an epic two level chase scene and a happy ending pulled out of the far reaches of the writers colon.
I don’t do stars and black holes for kids movies. It seems petty and pointless. I would normally judge a kids film by how much the kids in the audience seemed to be reacting but the theater was mostly empty (read into that what you will). I suppose if I were five years old I would enjoy about 15 minutes of it on the nursery television before going off to hit my little sister on the head. Any older than that and I think I would probably be pretty bored. That boredom will increase exponentially as you get older so if mom and dad have to sit through this I hope you brought your beer helmet full of Steel Reserve.
Well, that’s it I guess. This film exceeded the industries very modest expectations so I guess we can look forward to seeing Nut Job 2: Bigger and Nuttier soon. Odds are the industry failed to factor in how desperate parents are for entertainment for their hyper overexposed rugrats. Either that or the sexual double entendre in the title was badly misinterpreted by assorted deviants and the opening weekend was filled with guys in raincoats who left halfway through the movie but were too embarrassed to demand their money back. Should you see it? Meh. This film was basically designed to be bought as a DvD and thrown on the “My God find something to keep that brat distracted for an hour” shelf. As an adult fan of well done kids movies absolutely not. Date movie? No. If she is a kid at heart (or you are in that grace period before they find the right photo of you to put up on the Megan’s Law website) see the Lego Movie (writing that review next). Bathroom break? Any time you see Surly Squirrel about to deliver a monolog about how he is a lone squirrel or something is a great time to boogie. The only scenes really worth watching all have Precious in them.
Thanks for reading. Like I said I just saw the Lego Movie and am eager to write it up but had this thing 2/3rds done and wanted to get it out. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu and post any comments you might have on my review or this film right here. Off topic questions or suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to you soon.