‘THE SMURFS 2’ ★★
Patrick Winslow Neil Patrick Harris
Victor Doyle Brendan Gleeson
Grace Winslow Jayma Mays
Gargamel Hank Azaria
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Raja Gosnell. Written by J. David Stern and David N. Weiss. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG (for some rude humor and action). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.
Updated: September 1, 2013 6:12AM
You probably already know how the you feel about the prospect of spending 105 minutes in the company of Smurfs and how that might compare, favorably or unfavorably, to being poked in the eye repeatedly with a sharp stick.
So let’s just say this: “The Smurfs 2” probably isn’t any worse than you might expect. On the other hand, it’s almost certainly not any better. It’s just a matter of figuring out how much punishment you’re willing to endure for the sake of the small child you’re taking to the movies. Or for the sake of diehard ’80s nostalgia.
Two years ago, the whopping worldwide hit “The Smurfs,” the first in a planned trilogy of films based on the adventures of the little blue relentlessly cute mushroom dwellers (created in the late ’50s by Belgian cartoonist Peyo and brought to “La la la la la la la”-singing life by a popular 1980s Saturday-morning cartoon series), made its way to Manhattan. That’s where a contingent of the pint-sized, CGI-generated clan found themselves transported via some sort of inter-dimensional portal after the evil wizard Gargamel drove them out of magical Smurf Village. And that’s where they first made the live-action acquaintance of the Winslows, Smurf-friendly expectant mom Grace (Jayma Mays) and uptight marketing exec Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris), who has a few life lessons to learn about opening his heart to love in all its tiny blue animated forms.
“Smurfs 2” reunites the Smurfs and the Winslows, with their young son Blue (Jacob Tremblay), in Paris for no clear good reason. This time, goofy villain Gargamel (Hank Azaria, working overtime for laughs to little avail) is focusing his nefarious attentions on spunky Smurfette (Katy Perry), who began life as one of his faux-Smurf “naughties” before she was transformed into the true-blue variety by kindly Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters in his last role).
After kidnapping her with the help of new naughties Vexy (Christina Ricci) and Hackus (J.B. Smoove), the bald, buck-toothed baddie plans to force her to reveal Papa’s transformation spell so he can turn create an endless number of true-blues, painfully extract their magical “essence” and use it to power his new gig as a stage magician at the Paris Opera House — and rule the world while he’s at it. Papa, along with Grouchy, Vanity and Clumsy Smurf (George Lopez, John Oliver and Anton Yelchin), magically pops over to Manhattan again, asks the Winslows for help and flies to Paris. There Patrick has more life lessons to learn, this time about recognizing the value of his tagalong, underappreciated stepdad Victor (Brendan Gleeson).
“Smurfs 2” is almost as complicated, in other words, as it is cloyingly sweet, despite the best efforts of Gargamel to provide mean-spirited counter-balance. (How worried should we be, by the way, to find ourselves secretly rooting for him instead of Team Treacle?) And despite director Raja Gosnell’s (“Scooby-Doo,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”) ongoing, generally unsuccessful attempts to generate laughs with low-level slapstick and ironic wisecracks undercutting the Smurfs’ wholesome image, presumably for the sake of adults. Though the one-liners never get much more sophisticated than jokes about the little blue guys getting smacked in the Smurf-berries.
Speaking of which, the most wearisome thing about spending time with Smurfs isn’t their hardcore wholesomeness; there’s always room for a little more nice in the world. No, it’s their pernicious habit of inserting the word Smurf for nouns, verbs, adjectives, you name it, whenever they have anything to say. The Smurf-berries thing, for example, or one of the rescuers speculating that Smurfette, in Gargamel’s clutches, might be suffering from Smurf-holm Syndrome. Or one of them simply wondering, “Hey, who smurfed a bite of Smurfette’s birthday cake.”
It’s enough to drive somebody out of his ever-Smurfing mind.