Review: 'Despicable Me'

(Two-and-a-half stars)

If your kids have fully recovered from "Toy Story 3," you can safely proceed to "Despicable Me," a CGI-animated comedy that weds a Charles Addams drollness to Looney Tunes one-upmanship (in 3D!).

Steve Carell voices Gru, an Eastern European supervillain plotting to reverse a slump by stealing a shrink ray and, subsequently, the moon. For years, he's been subsidized in his half-baked heists by loans from the Bank of Evil (which gets a timely economic-meltdown zinger), but having tired of Gru's shtick, the bank decides to back another horse: young mad-scientist du jour Vector (Jason Segel). Thus a spy-vs.-spy style war breaks out between Gru and Vector, who seems always to have the upper hand.

Enter three orphans: maternal Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), back-talking Edith (Dana Gaier) and unicorn-loving Agnes (Elsie Fisher). The curmudgeonly Gru hates kids (well, to be fair, he hates the human race), but he sees an opportunity to exploit them for his own ends. And so he adopts them -- or, in his mind, rents them -- to put one over on Vector.

Anyone who's ever read "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" can guess where this is headed. Some will find it a bit of a letdown that the antisocial comedy turns into a reassuring fable about how adults need kids to transform their lives, but guess who won't? Parents and kids. Score one for "Despicable Me."

The movie's jokes are at times gleefully absurd (the variety of weaponry includes a squid-shooter) but more often mostly derivative. Still, directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud put them over with articulate body language and ample energy; they also make advantageous use of the 3D (a roller coaster sequence may be the best of its kind ever put on film). In place of "Toy Story"'s rubber aliens, we get Gru's test-tube-baby "minions," chattering Twinkies in overalls destined to be crowd favorites.

Carell's vocal gymnastics are welcome, and he's well supported by Russell Brand, in fine form as Gru's elderly partner-in-crime Dr. Nefario; and Julie Andrews playing hilariously against type as the nasty mother who proves Gru wasn't so much born bad as he was kicked to the curb by mommy. And movie nerds will enjoy visual references like the tip of the hat to "Star Trek II"'s "Genesis Effect" (a breakthrough use of CGI landscape).

"Despicable Me" may not be the sort of film adults will want to revisit, but they'll find it pleasant enough to while away a matinee. And kids are bound to find it a laugh-a-minute romp. Basically, what's not to like -- or rather, what's to despise?

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality. 1 hour, 35 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

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