Older kids and their minion guardians could do worse than "Despicable Me 2," the sequel to the 2010 smash about a supervillain turned adoptive parent. On the other hand, reports of the movie's charm have been greatly exaggerated. It's a reasonably efficient baby sitter, done up in 3-D computer-generated animation of no special distinction. But the first one's weird mixture of James Bond bombast and hyperactive pill-shaped Minions (the protagonist Gru's goggle-clad helpers) had the element of surprise in its favor.
This time Gru is placed in the takes-one-to-catch-one mold of Hannibal Lecter. An arctic research lab gets sucked up into space by a giant magnet in the prologue. The Anti-Villain League (Kristen Wiig voices Lucy, the sweet, tightly wound AVL agent) recruits Gru to track down the villain in question, El Macho. Much of "Despicable Me 2" takes place in an antiseptic "Logan's Run"-styled mall, where Gru and Lu work undercover, and their fellow tenants include a hair-club toupee peddler (Ken Jeong, voice) and a seductive Mexican restaurant owner (Benjamin Bratt, taking over for the originally slated Al Pacino) whose dreamy teenage son (Moises Arias) catches the eye of Gru's oldest (Miranda Cosgrove).
To my taste, as well as that of several nervous preteens in the preview audience, the script by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio ("The Lorax," "Horton Hears a Who!") goes in for an awful lot of cheap scares, notably when the Minions are injected with a serum changing them into hairy, menacing purple beasts. Would it kill a movie such as this to find another way to keep the target audience in its collective seat? The Minions are amusing, but they remain largely undifferentiated creatures, saved from pure generica only by their peppy gibberish-based language skills, heavy on the flatulence sound effects.
Steve Carell's Slavic inflections as Gru do the trick, as before. Wiig's clever hesitations and comic timing help save the day. The minute her character's pointy-ish nose appears on screen, with the rest of her, you know she and the extremely pointy-nosed Gru are going to be sweethearts. Next year the Minions star in their own movie, titled "Minions." "Despicable Me 2" will do, until that one comes along.
MPAA rating: PG (for rude humor and mild action)
Running time: 1:38