The chuckles and squeaks of Minions
Sidekicks rarely shine when thrust into the spotlight, but what about a few hundred of them?
The Minions, having been the best part of the two previous "Despicable Me" movies, swarmed the screen in "Minions" this summer. As candidates for center stage, they were seemingly ill suited. Slavishly - if rarely competently - devoted lackeys, they're underlings by both definition and verticality.
They don't speak intelligibly, which, to be fair, isn't a bar all of Hollywood's leading men reach. Instead, they talk in a bright babble that belies their fondness for colorful phonetics. "Banana" and "pi§ata" are their kind of words.
Their unsuitability for the lead role, or just about anything else, is much of the fun of "Minions," a happy henchmen overload that largely succeeds in its simple mission: More Minions!
Directed by Pierre Coffin (who co-directed "Despicable Me" one and two and voices the Minions) and Kyle Balda, "Minions" begins in fine form. The little yellow ones are already humming the Universal theme as the film begins.
With Geoffrey Rush narrating, we get the history of the Minions, which stretches back across eons and begins with them - a curios early mammal - literally walking out of the sea.
But the evolution stops there. For thousands of years, we see, they've been letting down their evil masters, from a Tyrannosaurus Rex accidentally tipped into a volcano, to Dracula, whom they excitedly wake with a birthday cake and wide-open blinds.
The Minions have their own Ice Age, however, ending up leaderless in Antarctica. After a few hundred years, the joy of snow ball fights beginning to dim, three of them - Kevin, Bob and Stuart - set out on a quest to find a new supervillain to idolize.
Soon, they're on their way to Villain-Con, a riff on Comic-Con, only a convention celebrating the likes of Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), an evil world-conqueror in a beehive. The trio inadvertently wins a job in Overkill's entourage and they're soon enmeshed in her plan to take the British throne, along with Overkill's inventor, Herb (Jon Hamm).
There are, it should be noted, more ambitious seats of power to set one's diabolical sights on. But this is 1960s Swinging London, a colorful if over-familiar backdrop, and the goggle-wearing Minions could just as well be chipper Mods.
The irreverent slapstick unfortunately gives way to the kind of action set pieces that have now even corrupted children's movies. The bombast, though never serious, is still loud enough to, for too long, drown out the best thing the movie has going for it: The chuckles and squeaks of the Minions.
It also makes it harder to hear the other key sound accompanying the Minions: the laughter of children.
What are the Minions but stand-ins for kids? Mumbling half-understood words by the mouthful, they plunge headlong into any task, usually wielding a dangerous object they shouldn't. Nothing makes them double over like a good pratfall and they will insist on a goodnight kiss or bedtime story. Teaming and relentless, they will melt the heart of any guardian, even a supervillain.
Coming on the heels of Pixar's "Inside Out," an emotional wallop that mostly knocks out misty-eyed adults, "Minions" is a different beast. This one's for the kids.
"Minions," a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for "action and rude humor." Running time: 91 minutes. Rating: Two and a half stars out of four.