For an unrestricted segment of the “Minions: Rise of Gru” audience, only one thing really needs to be said. The Minions are in it. That’s enough.
And the franchise’s latest installment, “Minions: Rise of Gru,” is smart enough not to reinvent the wheel – even though trying to do so might seem like the kind of job Minions would love to get into. The film’s plan is a sequel to the prequel to 2015’s “Minions” and “Despicable Me” for Gru (Steve Carell), who here is an 11 3/4-year-old budding supervillain. But coming of age belongs less to Gru and more to his small army of sidekicks who once again steal the show as they establish their undying allegiance to “Mini Boss.”
The superficial storyline centers on Gru achieving his evil dreams and proving his mettle to a group of villains called the Vicious 6. It’s 1976 California. The Vicious 6 dumped its founder, an elderly nunchuck-wielding criminal named Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin, a voice so distinctive it even pierces through something so cartoonish). Its new leader, disco-styled Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), takes possession of a powerful amulet and then holds auditions for new members at the Vicious 6’s secret San Francisco lair beneath a music store called Criminal. Records. With neatly combed hair, Gru shows up looking for his big chance to be immediately sent away as a mere child. In the spinoff, Gru and the Minions sneak away with the amulet.
I’m sure you’re dying to know the fate of this amulet. Luckily, “Rise of Gru” knows its MacGuffins are nothing but Minion fodder. More than any previous film, this one seems designed to allow for as much slapstick hijink as possible for scabs. The plot is mostly just a mechanic for the chaos of the Minions, allowing them to pilot an airliner, learn kung fu from an acupuncturist (Michelle Yeoh), and repeatedly utter “San Francesco”.
That’s not necessarily a recipe for the greatest movie of all time, but a far worse sin, in this world of Minion domination, would be to skimp on screen time for the little guys. “Rise of Gru,” directed by franchise veteran Kyle Balda, provides a fast and airy 88-minute Minion track to keep the pipsqueak masses satiated ahead of the upcoming “Despicable Me” movie. After singling out the trio of Kevin, Stuart, and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin), the chubby, talkative Otto is introduced this time around.
Along the way, there are plenty of 70s needle drops, from the Ramones to Sly and the Family Stone, and even a reference to Linda Ronstadt. There are also plenty of loving period details, including a Tupperware party and a trip to the movies to see “Jaws.” (The Minions laugh their heads off.) “Rise of Gru” also at times adopts a Blaxploitation vibe or a James Bond opening credits sequence.
If anything, the Minion craze has proven the timeless versatility of the wide-eyed henchmen – a cartoonish concoction of childlike slapstick simplicity and eminent flexibility. It’s enough to make you curious to imagine the Minions in later decades – on Wall Street in the 80s, perhaps, or banging their heads at a Nirvana concert in Seattle in the 1990s.
“Minions: Rise of Gru,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for its action/violence and crude humor. Duration: 88 minutes. Two and a half out of four stars.
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