‘The Nut Job’: Not much for adults, or maybe even kids
By BILL ZWECKER Columnist January 16, 2014 2:52PM
Voiced by Maya Rudolph, the pug Precious (right) is a standout character in "The Nut Job," which also features Surly (voiced by Will Arnett). | Open Road Films photo
‘THE NUT JOB’ ★★1⁄2
Surly Will Arnett
Grayson Brendan Fraser
Raccoon Liam Neeson
Andie Katherine Heigl
Open Road presents a film directed by Peter Lepeniotis and written by Lepeniotis and Lorne Cameron. Running time: 86 minutes. Rated PG (for mild action and rude humor). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Inspired by his hilarious and much-acclaimed 2005 animated short “Surly Squirrel,” “Toy Story 2” animator director and co-writer Peter Lepeniotis has expanded it into a full-length 3D feature.
While the animation is quite good and the filmmakers have brought together an excellent group of actors to provide the voice talent, the storyline leaves us with a tale more reminiscent of Saturday morning kids’ programming.
“The Nut Job” breaks no new ground in the world of animation, and when compared to recent releases like “Frozen” or “Despicable Me 2” or “Brave,” it comes off as average at best. The theme of the film does provide a good life lesson for younger audiences — stressing the importance of teamwork, loyalty, friendship and trust.
Will Arnett voices Surly, an aggressive and selfish squirrel who has absolutely no interest in helping his fellow animals — all residents of a beautiful city park — as they gather food to store for their long winter hibernation.
Facing their own kind of recession, the furry creatures find a dangerous dearth of available nuts and other edibles to stash away in their home base: an enormous oak tree in the center of the park. But Surly — long a loner, with only his mute sidekick Buddy for company — comes upon a bonanza, spying a street vendor’s nut cart sitting on the edge of the park.
Of course, he’s not the only one to make the discovery, as two other squirrels — the park’s dimwitted “hero” Grayson (Brendan Fraser) and the brainy Andie (Katherine Heigl) — also find the cart.
Unbeknownst to our anthropomorphic little friends, that cart is merely a cover — manned by a couple of crooks planning to rob the bank directly across the street. As the competing squirrels fight over control of the cart, a disastrous accident destroys the park animals’ meager stocks of food.
The animals’ leader, Raccoon (voiced with proper bombast by Liam Neeson), blames Surly and banishes him from the park forever. Forced to navigate alone in the harsh urban environment, Surly stumbles on the crooks’ headquarters and an even bigger jackpot: the nut-shop base for that cart.
The evil crooks here are pretty funny, simple, two-dimensional louts. One standout is the pug dog belonging to King, the leader of the gang. Named Precious, she is voiced with great wit by Maya Rudolph.
Perhaps because the film’s funding draws from sizable South Korean interests, there’s an odd and certainly dated sequence in the end credits: a “Gangnam Style” dance bit with an animated Psy leading the charge.
The bottom line: Kids may be mildly amused by “The Nut Job,” but adults accompanying them won’t find much to capture their interest. Unlike many good animated films today, this one really only works on one level.
Or perhaps I’m overstating children’s feelings. At the screening I attended — which included quite a few kids — the laughs were few and far between.