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The Nut Job (2014)
Movie Reviews

The Nut Job (2014)

An unmotivated, unfunny, unfocused, strained 3D animated family comedy that showed no signs of having families or anyone else in mind.

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One would have to be a nut job in order to have believed The Nut Job was suitable for release. Here is an unmotivated, unfunny, unfocused, strained 3D animated family comedy that showed no signs of having families or anyone else in mind. It’s an eighty-six-minute series of overused physical gags strung together by a confused, unengaging plot and populated by characters we must struggle to find likeable. How can any potential audience, children especially, pick up on its message of trusting and finding one’s place in the community if we’re not made to care about what’s happening? And even though the film is in part a South Korean production, absolutely nothing about the story, the characters, or the message supported the inclusion of “Gangnam Style” on the soundtrack.

Although the press notes rather than the film itself told me it takes place in 1959, the persistent appearance of vintage cars, along with a human character named Lana who sports a very Lana Turner-esque hairdo, clued me in to the fact that it was indeed a period picture. Set during the fall, the plot is founded on the premise that the woodland creatures of a park in the middle of a New York-like metropolis haven’t gathered enough food to see them through the winter months. These animals, led by a raccoon named Raccoon (voiced by Liam Neeson), know that someone will have to make a dangerous trek into the city in order to find food. The outcast of the group, a squirrel named Surly (voiced by Will Arnett), is aptly named; he’s selfish and uncaring, not independent so much as antisocial and completely unwilling to share any of the food he scrounges up.

When a mishap at a street nut cart results in the animals’ tree getting destroyed, along with the measly amount of food stashed within it, it’s unanimously voted that Surly be banished from the park and left to fend for himself in the unforgiving city, where human feet, cars, and mangey, demonic-looking alley rats wait in the shadows. Surly and his bumbling sidekick, a mute rat named Buddy, soon happen upon a nut shop, and naturally, they believe they have struck gold. But Surly’s victory is quickly overshadowed by the film’s only halfway decent character, a female squirrel named Andie (voiced by Katherine Heigl); having been sent on a mission by Raccoon in order to find food, she has to negotiate with Surly to ensure that the other animals get their cut of the store’s loot.

You know how it is in heist movies, even if the intention is to make them family friendly – someone is secretly hoping to sabotage the heist of the nut store for his or her own personal gain. Decency prevents me from revealing who or why, although I will say that it isn’t all that hard to figure out. Regardless, the film becomes a tiresome and somewhat inappropriate display of suspicion and finger-pointing, the park animals believing that Surly is in it only for himself. As the situation plays out, we’re bombarded with a slew of secondary characters, none more unneeded than the park’s designated hero, a handsome, macho squirrel named Grayson. Much like the Scorch Supernova character from last year’s misguided Escape from Planet Earth, Grayson is voiced by Brendan Fraser as a self-aggrandizing idiot convinced of his own superiority … and then learns the hard way that he doesn’t quite measure up when out of his element.

In an unsuccessful effort to mirror the animal’s heist of the nut store, the film also tells the story of human mobsters using the nut store as a front for planning a bank robbery. The bank is located across the street from the nut store, and the mobsters must dig out a tunnel connecting the basement to an area just under the bank’s vault. There are several things wrong with this subplot, none more obvious than the fact that it simply wasn’t needed in a story with talking animals. It was like two entirely different movies being forced to share the same space. Furthermore, what made the filmmakers believe that children, the film’s target audience, would in any way respond to adult conventions like safecracking, thugs with nicknames like Fingers, gangsters on their supposedly last job, and blonde-haired molls with ditzy New York accents?

I mentioned earlier the inclusion of “Gangnam Style” on the soundtrack. At first, it’s used as an instrumental track during a montage of Surly failing to enter the nut store for the first time. But then come the end credits, in which we not only hear Psy singing but actually see an animated caricature of him doing his signature invisible horse dance with the film’s characters. Yes, the song is indisputably catchy, but I’ll be damned if I know how it relates to any aspect of the film – and remember, it takes place in 1959. The only conceivable reason the song is used in The Nut Job is because it’s known, as is Psy, who, apart from the end credits, doesn’t make a single appearance in any of the film’s scenes. I don’t know who thought including him or his song was a good idea, but whoever they were should have been asked to leave the room and not come back until they came up with something better.

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1/17/2014

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PG

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Open Road Films

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi