Movie review: “The Nut Job”

nut job

The Nut Job

dir. Peter Lepeniotis

Release Date: Jan 17, 14

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The Nut Job is a strange beast as far as low-ish budget CGI family animated goes, in part because it’s at once a movie about cute animals doing and saying wacky things, a sendup of hard-boiled ‘50s heist movies, an actual heist movie with a secondary set of human characters and a long advertisement for Korean  superstar entertainer Psy. Yes, seriously.

But to the cute animals for a moment: The Nut Job is set in a nondescript, pulpy city, in the center of which is a grand tree around which the cast of animals can banter. Led by Raccoon (Liam Neeson), the animals struggle every year to harvest enough nuts for hibernation, and have finally hit a point of critical mass in which they need to find a larger source of food, and fast. Andie (Katherine Heigl) comes up with a plan to rob a nut cart, and is given the pompous Greyson (Brendan Fraser) as an accomplice, but is thwarted by Surly (Will Arnett), a survivalist who botches the heist and is subsequently banished from the park. Surly finds a nut shop in the city that could leave him set for life, but Andie and the other animals want to help him rob it, and then the nut shop is actually a front for a mobster who’s tunneling under a bank, and this is all now rather convoluted for a family film.

That doesn’t work against it, though. If anything, the sheer inexplicable weirdness of The Nut Job goes a long way toward somewhat enlivening what’s otherwise a by-the-numbers, slightly below average family movie. There are fart jokes, funny accents, a romantic subplot and a nice lesson to take home at the end, brought to milquetoast life by a voice cast whose apathy is often audible. The jokes are mostly a pastiche of parent-winking Dreamworks tropes, and the film’s juxtaposition of human and animal behavior is straight out of the Looney Tunes playbook. The film’s one really great gag involves one of the human thieves, who without a moment’s pause is convinced that a squirrel is out to thwart his bank heist. More of that inspired weirdness and fewer belching badgers would’ve gone a long way.

The film situates itself early as a family movie the parents can like as well, but most kids who’ve grown up in the Pixar era will see The Nut Job for the pandering chaff it is. It’s not animated particularly well, which is charming to a point (it recalls the video game Team Fortress 2 just a bit in its overexaggerated, blocky humans) but eventually just looks cheap. And there’s the matter of Psy, whose now-ubiquitous “Gangnam Style” is not only used for a montage about halfway through the movie, but as the film’s entire credit sequence, where the cast of animals and humans come out just to line dance to the song with an animated Psy. It’s hard to determine exactly what purpose this serves beyond “the kids like THIS, don’t they?,” but it’s hard to imagine the minds behind The Nut Job thinking this would result in anything other than audiences being more interested in a portly, charming man in a sequined blazer than in their film. This reaction, frankly, is perfectly reasonable.