Be thankful for the second-rate visuals in “The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature.” The jokes about dogs eating their own vomit would have been much harder to watch with state-of-the-art animation.
You take victories where you can at this point in the summer, when studios feel compelled to continue releasing movies, even though most filmgoers have been stripped of their desire to see them. “The Nut Job 2” seems surgically targeted for parents who have a week left before school starts, and have run out of ideas.
The movie certainly doesn’t have any new ones. The first “Nut Job” in 2014 tried to set itself apart, with an early 1960s setting and noir-ish qualities. It wasn’t especially good, but it was mediocre in the name of art. The sequel is a movie of distractions, not ideas. The action rarely stops, because that would be a reminder that the film has absolutely nothing to say.
Will Arnett voices Surly, a selfish squirrel who learned nothing from the previous movie, growing fat off the spoils of an abandoned nut store while would-be girlfriend Andie (Katherine Heigl) continues to forage in the nearby park. Disaster strikes for the lazier animals, just as a Boss Hogg-like mayor (Bobby Moynihan) aims to destroy the greenery and turn it into a death trap amusement park.
All of these themes have been explored before in much better TV and film, most notably the monorail episode of “The Simpsons.” “The Nut Job 2” lacks anything that stamps it as unique. In that way, you may find yourself 10 years from now, swearing you watched this movie in a theater even though you didn’t. It’s the kind of film where you can accurately surmise the entire plot, just by looking at the movie poster.
“The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature” (be warned — your IQ will drop a full point every time you say those those words out loud) does have a few positives. A new pack of Chinatown mice are good for some satisfying physical comedy, in a killer rabbit-from-“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” kind of way. You’ll wish they were in the movie more.
And although production company Open Road Films is making these animated films with a small budget that shows in the raw technical quality of the visuals, the character design and production design remain solid. The park and buildings once again have a warm quality that suggests a city with depth, as if someone might be filming a better animated comedy a block or two away.
“The Nut Job 2” isn’t maddening like “Smurfs 2,” where you continue to hate yourself years later for spending the money. It’s an adequate babysitter, that completely fails to inspire. With so much repetitive action, and so much reliance on the plot points of previous films, there is literally no bad time to take a bathroom break during “The Nut Job 2.”
That’s one more small victory, before the fall movie season makes everyone start caring again.
“The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature”
Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph, Jackie Chan and Katherine Heigl. Directed by Cal Brunker.
Rated PG. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Bottom line: An adequate babysitter, but fails to inspire
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