Jan 10, 2015

Review: The Nut Job (2014)

Normally I'd be happy to be watching a Canadian production, but that's not the case with The Nut Job. Overloaded with big names, it looks like a trap for parents trying to pass itself off as decent entertainment for children. I can't really judge a movie without watching it and I always try to avoid doing it, but that was my initial impression prior to seeing the film. This is also a co-production with South Korea which ends up being pretty significant and you'll see why.

The film is actually based on director/writer Peter Lepeniotis' short Surly Squirrel which I haven't had the chance to see yet. I'll fix that as soon as I can though because I definitely want to see the changes that were made, if any. I have a feeling that there were lots though because you don't go from animated short to animated feature just like that with studios breathing down your neck and who only want an easy cash generator.


Genre: animation, adventure, comedy
Directed by: Peter Lepeniotis
Produced by: Woo-Kyung Jung, Graham Moloy, Hongjoo Ahn, etc.
Written by: Lorne Cameron, Peter Lepeniotis
Music by: Paul Intson
Running time: 86 minutes
Production company: Gulfstream Pictures, Red Rover International, ToonBox Entertainment
Distributed by: Bandwidth Digital Releasing, Open Road Films, Sidus Pictures, etc.
Country: Canada, South Korea, United States
Language: English
Budget: $42,000,000
Box office: $113,307,962 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Dunham, Gabriel Iglesias, Sarah Gadon, James Rankin, Scott Yaphe, Joe Pingue, Annick Obonsawin, Julie Lemieux, Robert Tinkler, James Kee, Scott McCord, Katie Griffin, Psy



Surly (Will Arnett) is a squirrel living in Oakton City Park who's gone solo along with his rat partner Buddy (Robert Tinkler). He lives apart from the other park animals who are led by Racoon (that's really his name?) (Liam Neeson). The two don't like each other and following an incident which destroys the food storage tree belonging to the park animals not long before winter, Surly is  permanently banished. It doesn't take Surly to long to stumble upon a find that would feed the park for years to come.


I guess I'll start with the animation for The Nut Job which I'd describe as "missing a layer." It's as if the animators ran out of time and had to be content with the work they had by the end at that point. Also, what's with Buddy looking like Remy from Ratatouille? What's with Racoon's cardinal sidekick looking like a character from the mobile game Angry Birds? All I can say is that we're nowhere near the level of quality or originality you'd see from a blockbuster animated film from Disney or Dreamworks and I guess that's no surprise. The big draw here are the names that do the voices and names have to be paid. The only positive I can give is the design aesthetic which is set in the 50's.

So how do these names perform? Well, Will Arnett as Surly is fine I suppose and I guess it's not his fault that Surly is impossible to really like. He's completely selfish and not in a good way like Charlie B. Barkin from All Dogs Go to Heaven let's say. He's not easy to root for and you just know that there's going to be some sort of cheap redemption on his part by the end.

For those hoping for a Brenden Fraser comeback, I can tell you that The Nut Job isn't going to be the movie to do it. He's saddled with the worst kind of comic relief material, popping his head in to say whatever dumb thing is meant to be funny whenever it's (in)convenient. It's also pretty sad to see how far Katherine Heigl has fallen to voicing the love interest of Surly who's just like every other character she always plays.

Liam Neeson is probably the best of the bunch and it's pretty much all on the account of himself. Compare him to the ashamed-sounding Maya Rudolph as the pug Precious though and he gives an award-winning performance. Good thing there's better stuff out there because again, these actors weren't hired to give amazing voice performances. They simply get a nice paycheque in return for saying some nut puns and letting the producers use their names on the posters. Nothing more.

That's the other thing about The Nut Job. It's sadly devoid of anything truly funny and was completely responsible for make me hang my head in shame. It's hard to believe that any self-respecting writer would think it's OK to pack in so many nut puns and burp/fart jokes as TNJ does. There's a seemingly infinite amount of slapstick humour and it gets old pretty fast. There's also so much frantic and in your face energy that it's enough to exhaust anybody.

However, one of the most infuriating things about The Nut Job is its forced inclusion of Psy's Gangnam Style. There's an instrumental version that starts playing at a certain celebratory scene and I couldn't do anything else by stare in shock. It gets worse though. Once we're in the end credits, an animated Psy shows up and dances around with the other park animal characters of TNJ. I kid you not. How much of this was because of the South Korean co-production is unclear, but I absolutely can't stand forced inclusions of popular pop songs. Gangnam Style was already outdated anyway by January of 2014, so it's pretty sad. 

The story at its base is about a heist and that's actually interesting in the sense that there are two heists going on at the same time; one with the park animals trying to break into a nut shop and one with human characters trying to break into a bank. The two stories intertwine well enough, but the humourless attempts at being funny ruin the whole thing. The climax is also flat and the falling action is completely predictable and lazy. 

All I can hope for is the The Nut Job completely falling into oblivion. Sadly that won't happen for some time because The Nut Job 2 is supposed to be released in 2016. That means I'm not done with this movie yet sadly and I can't imagine the sequel really stepping it up. It's lazily written, lazily voice-acted, it's annoyingly unfunny and it completely dates itself with the inclusion of Gangnam Style.



Related Reviews: 

Surly Squirrel (2005)

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