The Nut Job
Directed by: Peter Lepeniotis
Cast: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Katherine Heigl, Liam Neeson
Running Time: 1 hr 26 mins
Release Date: January 17, 2014
PLOT: Rogue squirrel Surly (Arnett) discovers a nut shop that is also the front for an underground bank robbery.
WHO’S IT FOR? With its key demographics having already seen Frozen, the film may provide decent satiation for its crowd, but without any rich spectacle, only its animal-talking zaniness to carry it through an ironically turgid running time.
Looking back on the moment, it was probably intended by the Nut Job filmmakers that my Saturday morning screening of The Nut Job began with the image presented inescapably out of focus, in need of a restart that would repeat the film’s first five minutes. Even through squinted eyes, forever damaged by not being able to experience 3D even with the glasses on due to the film’s presentation itself, one could start to sense what The Nut Job would unfold itself to be. A replay of other movies, without their sound imagery; just another 3D animated movie, but one that yearns to be defined specifically as the “another” than an actual individual film. Such a moment fermented The Nut Job down to such a generic experience that even the notion of sameness proved to be harmful.
Unlike numerous recent animated movies that would be marred with the passive aggressive labeling of “cartoon,” The Nut Job is indeed classified under the most basic kind of cartoon, a full-length former-short that could play in five minute segments with its vitality and importance intact (Tex Avery shorts have more crack addict ingenuity than this feature ever amasses). It plays to the simple fulfillment of zaniness, that which involves talking animals who can engineer elaborate contraptions from human goods, characters screaming (often at the viewer), and of course oodles of slapstick, in which animals take on physical comedy that involves walloping each other around; in which a dynamite explosion is associated with a fart.
Over the Hedge might have come out in 2006, which is like two generations of animation ago, but it still has a strong scent that wafts into watching The Nut Job. They have the same premise, of animals from the wild encroaching on human space to obtain food that will help them not die. By strange coincidence, these films also share the same co-writer, Lorne Cameron.
The Nut Job’s numbing unoriginality certainly doesn’t conclude with this almost-decade old connection (of which it would be excused of even more if they weren’t partially created from the same writer), but continues to other nagging references. During its generic gangster subplot within a generic story of talking creatures, the main robbery follows the same scheming steps as The Bank Job, or even Small Time Crooks. And on its animal angle, a twist involving a mole’s true identity is paralleled directly by G-Force, which came out only less than five years ago.
Even if some of its elements aren’t rip-offs or direct cliches, or in some cases lazy homages to dusty tropes, such still point to the film’s definitive trait of lacking creativity. The Nut Job proudly aims right down the line of low expectations it creates for itself when it simply characters by their species (Liam Neeson voices “Raccoon”), or features an indifferent pitch about the importance of not stealing alone.
Where can the good type of inspiration for The Nut Job be found within the film itself? It’s a fair question; this movie wasn’t actually made by robots, as much as computers are taking over the world and are writing this review right now. The Nut Job is too much of an assembly line product for any visual sequences to stand out as clear gasping moments where it seems to be proud of itself. Could one proclamation of inspiration be made for a piece of dialogue in which Katherine Heigl’s girl squirrel says, “We don’t convict without a trial”? Maybe. That type of lesson is unexpected, and it comes with an interesting edge considering this film’s unique Canadian-Korean existence. But not even the movie’s suggestive squirrel and nut jokes (“I’m just a squirrel trying to get a nut,” “Officer that man assaulted me with nuts,” “Let’s not get too nutty,” “Get your head out of your tail”) struggle to provide any intended spark of charm.
Even the film’s phony inspirations are generic: aggressively following the steps of previous animated movies, sure to own up to the trend with no mistake, The Nut Job features two sequences dedicated to “Gangnam Style.” It’s an epiphany that makes one realize, that even only when minutes into the movie, one should be expecting not one, but two dance sequences set to “Gangnam Style”; the film’s 1940’s setting be darned.
But perhaps, its worst trait is that it intends on being familiar, recognizable to other stories and movie experiences, without ever yearning to have its own identity. In that regard, this movie is a knockoff, the cheap-entertainment-at-a-high-price alternative because you can’t bring the kids to The Wolf of Wall Street.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10