Opening this weekend:
The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature—It may be that Our Commander in Chief raised
the profile of this movie a bit when, with the presidential gravitas we’ve come
to expect from him, he reportedly referred to his fired FBI Director as a “nut
job.” Not much less than executive action could have kept this sequel to 2014’s
animated feature The Nut Job, a
particularly drab and unrewarding kidflick, from flying under the radar.
The original, which was based, in
turn, on a much better 2005 cartoon short from Canada called Surly Squirrel, was about squirrels and other fuzzy little
creatures from a city park raiding the nut shop across the street in the manner
of a noir heist movie. It was promising idea, wrecked by the inclusion of a
bunch of obligatory kid-movie elements, like an underdog hero and a love
interest, which negated the caper-picture atmosphere.
The sequel finds alpha squirrel
Surly (voiced, again, by Will Arnett) and his pals living easy on the hoard in
the basement of the now closed and abandoned nut shop. When this lifetime
supply is destroyed, the gang is forced to return to the hard but
character-building work of foraging in the park, as Surly’s love interest
squirrel (Katherine Heigl) had been urging all along. But when a greedy Mayor
(Bobby Moynihan) decides to turn the park into a shoddy but profitable
amusement park, the creatures band together to mount a resistance.
I’m not suggesting anyone should rush straight
to the multiplexes to see Nut Job 2,
but for whatever it may be worth, it’s funnier than the original. It has some
visual richness—there are scenes which recall everything from Caddyshack to Bill Peet’s wonderful children’s
book Farewell to Shady Glade—and some
truly crazy old-school cartoon slapstick.
The most memorable character from
the first film, a pug voiced by Maya Rudolph, is back again, this time with a
love interest (Bobby Cannavale). But the best new element is Mr. Feng, a feral
white mouse voiced by Jackie Chan who leads a crack army of martial-artist
mice. Toward the end, this rodent collective commandeers a HAZMAT suit, and
brings it to wobbly life, something like the mice masquerading as a ghost that
torment Sylvester in the classic 1954 Warner Brothers cartoon Claws for Alarm.
Stuff like this bumps Nut Job 2 up a few notches over its
predecessor. If you find yourself at a matinee of it with your kid, you may get
a few more chuckles than you expected.
Still in theaters:
Atomic Blonde--There's some enjoyment, certainly, in watching the stunning 41-year-old
Charlize Theron beat the snot out of skeevy-looking guys. And you can get your
fill of this pleasure from this espionage thriller, set in Berlin in 1989, against the backdrop of The
Wall coming down. There are lots of fight scenes, intricately choreographed,
superbly shot, and performed with a percussive, grunting-and-groaning violence
by Theron and the heavies assaulting her, and these sequences go on for a long,
They often feel like fights in a
stage play, with the actors "selling" their highly telegraphed moves
with loud vocalizations. The combatants slow down as the fights progress and
they get increasingly tired and injured. They're left bloody and dirty and
scarred, and our heroine is forced to take ice baths to revive herself
This is not to say, of course, that
the action in this film is really much more plausible than that in any Bond or
Jackie Chan movie. It's just stylized in a different way, and after a while the
brutality of it becomes funny--you wonder what makes these people so doggedly
determined to kill each other, what could possibly inspire such loyalty and
commitment in the face of such savage punishment.
But it is fun to watch. Many of the
film's brawls and stalkings are ingeniously edited to '80s techno-pop hits, Bowie and Falco and Nena
and the like, and as with the '70s stuff in the Guardians of the Galaxy
flicks, it's a terrific, nostalgic playlist.
Theron plays Lorraine, sent by MI6 to investigate the
murder of a British spy just as the East German government is unraveling, and
to recover the McGuffin he was chasing, some sort of list that could restart
the Cold War. This allows Theron to be spectacularly showcased, both in terms
of her physical abandon and her nicotine and Stoli-charged ‘80s glamour. But
there’s nothing especially distinctive about Lorraine as a character, and while I didn’t
particularly notice any deficiencies in her British accent, the person with
whom I saw the film did.
The star, the fights and the music
have to hold us through a story that's both complicated and somehow
uninvolving. Lorraine's bosses tell her to
trust no one, including Their Man in Berlin
(James McAvoy). Other shady sorts include Sofia Boutella as a neophyte French
operative, John Goodman as a CIA man, Til Schweiger as a contact in a watch
shop, Eddie Marsan as the Soviet asset they're trying to smuggle into West Berlin, and Toby Jones and James Faulkner as the
British Intelligence honchos.
That cast is a game and capable
bunch, clearly, but the script, adapted from a graphic novel, doesn't release
their full potential. And the director, stunt unit specialist David Leitch,
doesn't find a way to unwind the plot twists coherently. The movie feels
overlong to no notable benefit; stretches of it are entertaining, but it's