** (out of 4)
I realize that kids probably enjoy the “Despicable Me” minions, which look like banana Tic Tacs and speak their own language. Really, though, they're a key symbol of what's wrong with family movies that often craft goofy gimmicks ready to be merchandised and aimlessly fill screen time instead of characters that actually matter. Or do you still find Scrat, that damn “Ice Age” squirrel, a stitch?
Similarly, “Despicable Me 2,” like its predecessor, is mild on every level: mildly funny, mildly annoying, mildly cute and mildly offensive. The story, created only because the 2010 effort made so much money, pairs former villain and current single father of three Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) with Lucy (Kristen Wiig), an agent of the Anti-Villain League investigating which mall store owner has stolen a serum that turns creatures into juiced-up maniacs. In terms of kids’ movie themes, I suppose we could do worse than an anti-steroid message.
The writers can’t be bothered to take advantage of the comic opportunities provided by the serum, however, or even provide any red herrings to disguise the identity of the crook. They do have a few nice gags, like Gru’s childhood pain-derived anxiety toward romance and a villain named El Macho who lived his name so strongly that he robbed armored cars by carrying them away and died by riding a dynamite-clad shark into a volcano. (Gru thinks a Mexican stereotype named Eduardo and voiced by Benjamin Bratt may be the return of El Macho.)
“Despicable Me 2” mostly provides jokes like the minions laughing at a guy whose last name is Lambsbottom, simply so Gru can call him Sheepsbutt. Get it? “Bottom” and “butt” are funny words, and the fart noises from the minions’ guns are funny sounds. Lucy exclaims, “Booby!” when spotting a booby trap and, believe it or not, the minions sing a version of All 4 One's “I Swear.” Sigh.
Meanwhile, Gru's girls are largely pushed to the side as if kids can raise themselves. That's actually not the case in reality, but it's no shock that “Despicable Me 2” neglects to give youngsters much credit.
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