– Summary –
Director : Peter Lepeniotis
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Sarah Gadon.
Approx Running Time : 85 Minutes
Synopsis: An arrogant squirrel and his band of friends decide to steal a season’s supply of nuts from a store – only to find that store is owned and run by a recently released gangster.
What we think : There’s a single word I can use to describe The Nut Job in its entirety. That word? Tedious. The Nut Job’s been-there, done-that story, flat, lifeless characters and cliched, and try-hard pop-culture savvy meander into stultifying, cloying inadequacy faster than the central character – Surly the squirrel – can collect enough nuts to fill his tiny mouth. Infantile scripting and humor running the gamut of half-assed and unfunny leave this film lacking almost any positive marketability whatsoever. At least the animation is worth a gander.
Not quite the porn film I thought it was….
There’s a reason you’ve probably never heard of The Nut Job. Flopping spectacularly on release, and garnering some truly vicious critical reviews, The Nut Job sank without a trace before finding itself bobbing up, like an unflushed turd, into the toilet bowl of “bargain bin” digital release. It’s funny, but going into The Nut Job without knowing anything about it, I was concerned that the film’s flashy animation and eclectic voice cast might not be up to the task of entertaining me, mainly due to the fact that I had no idea what the film was about. I guess competing with the Dreamworks and Pixar’s of the world, The Nut Job had a …er, job ahead of it, but even in a rather average promotional campaign and lack of awareness, one can always hold out hope that a hidden gem might be unearthed. Oh, how callous and fickle the movie fates can be. The Nut Job is anything but a hidden gem – it’s the kind of film you barely watch as entertainment if you’re over the age of about six – and I’m content in the knowledge that I never, ever have to watch it again.
Synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: In the fictional town of Oakton, a group of urban animals led by Raccoon (Liam Neeson) and his Cardinal assistant (who mostly chirps) store food for winter in a giant tree in the park called Liberty Park. Raccoon is informed by his servant Mole (Jeff Dunham) that there is a food shortage in the park. Among these animals is a selfish purple squirrel named Surly (Will Arnett), whose thieving reputation has made him an outcast. His only friend is his rat partner Buddy who doesn’t talk much. Their attempt to rob a peanut cart goes haywire when it is impeded by Raccoon’s helpers, a compassionate red squirrel named Andie (Katherine Heigl) and the ‘park hero’, a gray squirrel named Grayson (Brendan Fraser) whose heroic antics prove to be incompetent. A selfless Surly ignores Andie’s help and tries to get a bag of nuts while the owner Lucky (Scott Yaphe) and his his associate Fingers (James Rankin) gets distracted by a bratty girl scout customer and a police officer that the girl issues her complaint to. The heist also gets invaded by Lucky’s pet pug named Precious (Maya Rudolph). After fending her off by having her bite the pipe of a propane tank, Surly and Buddy escape with the cart and Andie manages to guide it to Liberty Park. Surly threatens Andie and Grayson with a torch, unwilling to share the food, but accidentally causes it to ricochet across the park. Although the animals (except for Grayson) get off safely, the cart is sent into the tree, where it explodes along with the tree and the animals’ food supply. When Surly is identified as the culprit, Raccoon banishes Surly from Liberty Park following a unanimous vote forcing him to survive in the city. Buddy attempts to be with Surly who tells Buddy leave him after he unknowingly contributed to his exile. After escaping from wild street rats, Surly and Buddy find a nut store called Maury’s Nut Shop and attempt to rob it to feed themselves. After entering the store, they discover that it’s a criminal hideout used by Lucky, Fingers, their mob boss Percy “King” Dimplewade (Stephen Lang) who has recently gotten out of jail, his silent partner Knuckles, and his girlfriend Lana (Sarah Gadon).
Settling down in front of the television with my two young kids, my eldest (5) asked me “Daddy, is this a good movie?” Now, any parent will tell you that answering a question like that with anything other than “yes” (while a little white lie) will result in a tantrum about having to watch the film in the first place, but since I really didn’t know much about the film I figured that I could gloss over any potential negatives with “wow, isn’t that cool?”. After all, what 5-year old has the cognitive rationale to determine the merits of a film in the same way a grown adult would? So it was a “yes” from me, but as this thing wore on, and wore me down, I realized that I had just dudded myself out of not having to watch it. The Nut Job failed to captivate my young daughter, who eventually wandered off to play with her dolls, while my younger boy (2) just stared at it all, gobsmacked – the pretty pictures, you see.
The Nut Job fails in almost every way to appease anyone seeking entertainment. The story is thinly developed – it’s based on director Peter Lepeniotis’ original short film entitled Surly Squirrel, stretched out to feature length! – and the characters are entirely predictable. So generic, so cliched, you can almost see the inner workings of this film as it’s playing, turning each narrative corner with the precision you not only expect, but endure as things take place which never once really kick into gear. Obviously, the fault is inherent in the taking of a short subject and stretching it across 90 minutes of interminably dull kiddie–flick silliness, and as such, adults and older children soon become bored. The Nut Job never pretends to be a Monsters Inc, or a Shrek 2, and has far more in common with Dreamworks’ Over The Hedge than I really felt was legally permissible, and yet for all its silly goings-on, there’s a complete lack of unpredictable storytelling here that ruins any potential for things like “freshness” and “inventiveness”.
Another problem the film has is that it makes its central character, Surly the squirrel, utterly unlikeable. Having your lead character be a total douche is risky, because the journey said douche takes to turn from that into a reasonably likeable character, should stand up to scrutiny, but The Nut Job never gets that job done. Surly’s arrogance and attitude becomes wearying after twenty minutes, and by the end I just wanted it all to be over so I could claw out my eyes. Casting Will Arnett as Surly would normally be a good sign (after all, he made The Lego Movie the joy it was!) but here, he couldn’t elevate the material – poor as it was. In fact, the entire cast largely go wasted here, with such mediocre scripting and paint-by-numbers storytelling, there’s little the actors could do to make this film any better without it being live action. Brendan Fraser does his best impression of Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove, Liam Neeson has some weird accent going on as Raccoon, and Stephen Lang is comedically flat as King. Katherine Heigl irritated me just because it was Katherine Heigl (seriously, how does that stuck-up cow get any work at all?), and the rest of the bunch are all noticeably bland.
The Nut Job isn’t a great film, not by any stretch. It’s a Shark Tale-level entry in to the animated canon, a forgettable, lame affair drawn out by been-there-done-that ideas, weak characters and a frantic desire to keep the plot moving rather than develop characters or even a mood. It’s zany, frenetic storytelling that goes nowhere, and given most people will see a lot of the plot coming before it occurs, the boredom will set in well before the 60 minute mark. Running at nearly 90 minutes? The Nut Job is a polished turd amongst the real gems in the animated film genre. Give it a miss.