Despicable Me 4

Despicable Me 4

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Although “Despicable Me 4” might not win any awards, it is the kind of thing you would enjoy if you love this type of movie. I laughed. The stupider and more hysterical the jokes were, the louder my laughter became. The kids who watched it with me laughed even more loudly than I did.

However, what is often displayed on the screen is only a simple form of comedy in which a young father merely plays with his son’s foot when he puts sock on him and pretends to miss the foot each time yelling “Oops!” Gru, the reformed villain who turned into an arch-enemy fighter in the original movie of 2010, acts like an amateur comedian aspiring to make it big over children and their childlike followers. Silly Daddy, by turning out to be an ex-bad guy, makes himself laugh whenever he puts himself in trouble intentionally or involuntarily and becomes even more funnier.

This one directed by Chris Renaud who also directed first two entries of the series plus Despicable Me 4 “The Secret Life of Pets” feels stitched together—not lazy or distractedly but deliberately as though ‘we are making a type of comedy that has got lots of funny things we personally enjoy tied up with some sort of plot’. The result is hit-or-miss but overall delightfully irreverent. It’s a pretty good Mike Myers or Will Ferrell film, a Peter Sellers-era Inspector Clouseau comedy (the kind where they’d spend five minutes on a slapstick karate fight), or late-period Marx Brothers movie where the boys are all pushing sixty and most of the slapstick is being handled by stuntmen; however you still find it funny just because everybody involved knows what works.

In this one Will Ferrell is cast as the villain—a foolish Frenchman called Maxime Le Mal who attended Lycée Pas Bon, Gru’s alma mater (basically Supervillain Hogwarts). According to Maxime Gru failed at school talent show and since then for years he was suffering because of it. At class reunion backs Maxime Valentina (voiced by Sofia Vergara) bent on revenge turns himself into genetically modified man-cockroach whose escape from superhero prison lets him reunite with Valentina and unite with a bunch of intelligent army cockroaches wearing tiny helmets against Gru, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), his wife and their cute children as they kidnap the family’s baby boy, Gru, Jr. (New Gru morn originally repugnant to the father by refusing any attempt to win his heart over. You already know where this subplot is headed.)

Then the movie Despicable Me 4 sees Gru and his family witness-relocates them to a decrepit house in an affected suburb full of McMansions and assigns them backstories and preppy-sounding code names that they can’t remember (allegedly he’s a solar panel salesperson while she is an elite hairdresser). What looks like in many ways one of those “Cape Fear” knockoffs where criminals who can’t quit or have never quit causing trouble for hypocrites and squares gets kept from Maxime and Valentina until well into the movie. Much tomfoolery pitting Gru against Maxime gets lost this way.

However, there are funny moments like when Lucy’s victim follows her through a supermarket like T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” while chasing her due to her wrong hairdressing skills (of course they quote Brad Fiedel’s score). And early-“Simpsons” visual marginalia that mocks vacuous joy of American consumer culture. The grocery store cereal aisle displays such varieties as Skinny Bits, Fluffy, Atomic Sugar Bombz. A design that mocks modern stereotypes about fashion dressing as well as plastic surgery/botox among suburbanites which may make some parents feel embarrassed is on view here.

The central cast is expanded with possible recurring characters, including a teenage girl who is neighbor to the protagonist, Poppy Prescott (played by Joey King), who aspires to be a villain and thus gets Gru involved in the half-baked plan of robbing a mascot from his former school.

And then there are actually many more things the movie story has to tell. However, what passes for plot in this script (co-written by Ken Daurio and Mike White who had teamed on “Migration” at Illumination) is really an assembly of actionable information presented as jokes or set-ups and punch lines for interlocking gags. But occasionally it feels like White and Daurio are writing less with regard to structure than they are providing voice actors and animators material that builds up towards a crazy sight gag with bizarre grace notes; such as when Gru accidentally sticks himself in the thigh with a hypodermic needle full of tranquilizer, Despicable Me 4 then uses one leg as an impromptu riding crop while sitting astride Minion like it was a midget donkey.

Other moments seem fleeting and derive from particular body movements of characters which can be relished akin to details in live performance comedy, e.g., Poppy playing Dance Dance Revolution with her cat (both wearing their respective impassive faces). Or where Gru almost vanished into Poppy’s bean bag chair before he finally regally crossed his legs at knee length.

It’s not only slapstick but also all out Three Stooges style; pratsfalling and pranking while they bop each other about the face, chuckling as well as yammering nonsensically. There’s even this moment when someone in power tells a group of Minions about some dangerous experiment asking for volunteers and all those behind the first row step back. The dinosaurs laughed at that one.

These days people have an odd habit of asking if “necessary” is the right word for a film. In whatever sense these words are meant, if at all they have any meaning, this film is not necessary but it’s so unapologetically self-unnecessary that you might find yourself liking its tranquil self-assuredness. Stick around for the end credits and you’ll see one of the Minions – or mutant X-Men style superhero with conehead who can float and fly – rise up from the lower edge of the screen, down from above, or in from one side before meandering off while mumble something under his breath. And there were two very small kids in the theater who had stayed to watch this part when, indeed, they did laugh with excitement even though he was presently hovering.

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