Two words: Mild chuckles.
Two more words: Needs Gru.
In the matter of “Minions,” guffaws are few. There’s plenty in the picture to make you smile, and every once in a while along comes a moment to make you roar. Toward the end, there’s a gag that takes the term “parachute pants” to an immense and intensely nutty extreme. Good times.
But those times are few and far between.
Mostly, “Minions” proves that chittery gibberish, by itself, can only carry a picture so far. A short distance, to be exact, which is in keeping with the sawed-off stature of the movie’s titular critters, the Twinkie-shaped, Twinkie-colored, gibberish-spouting mischief makers who instantly endeared themselves to audiences in 2010’s animated hit “Despicable Me.”
Their natural role is that of supporting characters, comic relief. Their short selves are perfectly suited for cartoon shorts. But saddling them with the burden of carrying a whole movie on their nonexistent shoulders puts too much strain on the little dears. Left to their own devices, as they are by directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda and writer Brian Lynch, they clown and preen and misbehave in a manner that becomes increasingly precious as the movie wears on. But eventually, their antics just become wearing.
The picture is the prequel to “Despicable Me,” taking place in the years — millennia, actually — before they hooked up with the dastardly but undeniably delightful master villain Gru. How “Minions” misses the sardonic perversity (and bizarre accent) of the Steve Carell-voiced baddie.
The movie follows the tribe through prehistory and ancient history as they search for evildoers to serve. From T. Rex to Pharaoh to Dracula, none passes the test of minion leadership because minion bungling invariably results in these leaders’ quick demise.
The bulk of the movie takes place in 1968, when three minions — Kevin, Stuart and Bob, all gibbered by director Coffin — fall under the villainous spell of Scarlet Overkill, a waspwaisted virago voiced by Sandra Bullock. Flying around in a red rocket-propelled dress, she is a one-note caricature of bombastic bellowing badness. All other characters are similarly unidimensional.
Scarlet’s evil scheme is to have the minions steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown, which provides the opportunity for sight gags involving corgis, minion-hued bearskin hats and Tower of London torture devices. All gags are frantically paced.
The ’60s setting gives the filmmakers the opportunity to poke fun at such iconic images of the decade as flower-powered VW microbuses and Nixon campaign posters, and to fill the soundtrack with ’60s hits from the likes of the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks and Hendrix that don’t have much connection to the action on the screen.
Young kids are the target audience for this one, and the bright colors and goofiness will keep them entertained. Adults of a certain age might just find themselves wanting to run out and buy the soundtrack album.
☆☆1/2 out of 5
Cast: Featuring the voices of Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, Jon Hamm and Allison Janney.
Directors: Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda.
Running time: 1:31.
Rated: PG, for action and rude humor.