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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Despicable Me 2

DESPICABLE ME 2 (Three Stars)

U.S.: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, 2013

Zippily done, but somehow less emotional and more forgettable this time around, Despicable Me 2 is our second antic cartoon look at the despicable, if lovable bad guy Gru (a bald, fat, knife-nosed super-villain voiced  by the ubiquitous Steve Carell) and his despicable, if lovable Minions (pop-eyed little ambulatory yellow balls voiced by the movie’s super-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud). Together, they made a wry, horrific ensemble and they‘re joined (or rejoined) this time by Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt and other skillful, funny actors playing bizarre, if sometimes lovable, people and creatures.

But while it‘s a nice, often enjoyable movie with clever jokes and nifty scenes (like some of the Minions getting down to  the Village People’s bouncy double entendre-laden  disco hit “Y.M.C.A.”  for example ) Despicable 2  didn’t strike me as the equal or superior of the first movie , however many zillions it pulls in at the box-office.

It’s not that Coffin and Renaud — and their returning writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul — have lost their stuff. But I’m not as happy with Gru as a weird-looking super-hero, as I was with the guy as a super-villain, having the gru-someness charmed off him by those three adorable little orphans from the first movie, Marge, Agnes and Edith (Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier). Gru, is cuter as a villain,  just as Arnold Schwarzenegger was more powerful as a bad Terminator than as a good one).

At any rate, the problems involved in turning Gru from a sneering super-villain into a nice guy super-hero, surrounded by little minions, haven’t been solved — though I’ve got to admit that Coffin, Renaud,  and their gang have come up with a terrific replacement villain: Benjamin Bratt as the  boisterous and elegantly murderous  Eduardo a.k.a. El Macho, a heavy who can survive dynamite, volcanoes and minions alike.

Bratt, in many ways, steals the movie. But though I don’t like the script. Carell — who seems to be in so many movies and/or cartoons these days, that it’s a wonder we don’t get tired of him — holds his own, With his stage Russian accent, he reminds you at times of Akim Tamiroff, squeezed into a Loony Tune or an Edward Gorey drawing. Wiig meanwhile — who made her breakthrough as a comedy movie creator in Bridesmaids with superpal Melissa McCarthy — devises dozens of sparkling line readings to match up with the sparkly  drawing and animation on her character Lucy Wilde, supervillain-investigator.

Most of the best animation these days is the computerized stuff, and the rounded contours, warmth, depth  and rich detail sometimes suggest super-variants on stop-motion puppetry. The two Despicable Mes, by contrast, suggest the “modernistic” post-war flat, stylized line drawings of U.P.A. or Chuck Jones — even though they’re here often rendered n 3D. (You don’t want to miss the Minions in 3D doing their thing under the end-titles.) . Coffin and Renaud and their crew have mastered this style, and they have a lot of fun with it. And Carell, Wiig , Bratt and the other voice actors have fun as well. t’s just not as cool as Despicable 1.

Despicable 2 though has that casual expertise, color, energy  and witty emphasis on character, that most of the better cartoon features exhibit these days, and just because I found the script and the ideas a notch or two down from the first, doesn’t mean you will — or won’t. As I think I heard a Minion once say: A good Gru may be less fun than a bad Gru, but it’s better than no Gru at all.

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So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon