Synopsis: Surly, a curmudgeon, independent squirrel is banished from his park and forced to survive in the city. Lucky for him, he stumbles on the one thing that may be able to save his life, and the rest of park community, as they gear up for winter – Maury’s Nut Store.
Stars: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Sarah Gadon, Jeff Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Gabriel Iglesias
Director: Peter Lepeniotis
Running Length: 86 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: No one owes a bigger debt to the advent of cheaply produced animation more than the vermin of the world. Where else but in a colorful bit of family friendly fluff can your run of the mill flea infested squirrel be transformed into a purple-ish hero voiced by Will Arnett? Well squirrels, moles, raccoons, rats, and a host of other hairy creatures get their chance to shine in this well-intentioned but subpar attempt by small studio Open Road Films to weasel into the playing field with the likes of Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks.
The Nut Job centers on Surly the squirrel (Arnett), who of course is pretty surly (har har) and doesn’t like sharing his carefully gathered nut goodies with his fellow dwellers of a spacious park. When he’s responsible for the eradication of the food gathered for winter, he’s cast out of the park along with his silent rat friend. In the hustle and bustle of the big city just outside the quaint park, he has the good fortune to find himself in front of an honest to goodness nut store and his worries are over.
Trouble is, the nut store is really a front for a bunch of gangsters using it to rob a bank across the street. In a variation of your classic caper comedies, they’re digging underground to break into the vault just as Surly and his growing gang of scampering rodent folk keeps trying multiple methods to gain entry into the store for all the walnuts they could every dream of. Despite the somewhat quaint set-up of a robbery within a robbery, the movie never comes off as clever as it wants us to think it is.
Arnett is just fine but is perhaps a bit too sly in his delivery to truly open up his character beyond a grumpy squirrel who winds up changing his tune. There’s nothing particularly memorable about his low registered characterization and when paired with regal sounding Liam Neeson (Battleship, The Grey) it feels like a basso-profundo face-off.
Saying this is Katherine Heigl’s best work may sound like a dig…until you consider her long long LONG string of failed films over the past several years. Heigl (One for the Money) for once sounds as animated as her character, one of the few to be given a name other than their general moniker: Raccoon, Mole, Rat, etc…only species with multiple representation get their own names in the world of The Nut Job. I’d say that Brendan Fraser was awful voicing a doofus brawny popular squirrel but as the film went along it became clear that Fraser was really the only one that fully embraced his surroundings and turned up the dial on the exuberance…and then busted the dial right off and went higher. Though he’s exhausting, it’s the kind of liveliness the film is sorely lacking.
Running a long 80 some odd minutes, The Nut Job caps off it’s time with us via a curtain call finale set to South Korean rapper Psy’s Gangnam Style…nearly two years after it become popular and then went the way of the flashmob. I know an animated film takes time to make its journey to the screen but including a song that was a dated cliché before the release date approaches is a true puzzlement.
The kind of film that could be popular since there’s little in the way of family entertainment at the movies this month, The Nut Job is exactly as good as you think it looks. Falling into the mid-tier of animation efforts, it’s neither here nor there how well it does at the box office because it can’t have cost that much to make. I’d say skip it…but if you have kids driving you crazy at home there are a lot worse ways to take them to the movies.