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More Minion Chaos Saves ‘Despicable Me 4’

More Minion Chaos Saves ‘Despicable Me 4’

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is back in action in “Despicable Me 4.”
Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures

“Despicable Me 4” — 2 stars

Should a “Despicable Me” movie review be a thoughtful analysis or just a list of all the funny things the Minions do in it? As much as I believe in the value of film criticism, I suspect that even the best review points get dismantled as quickly as a Minion can say, “Bello!”

Since first appearing in the original “Despicable Me” film in 2010, the Minions have stormed through theaters with impunity, grossing an estimated $4.6 billion in box office sales and spawning a franchise that, with its latest film, “Despicable Me 4,” and the multiplying “Minions” spinoffs, now has six films and counting.

In “Despicable Me 4,” five of the Minions are turned into Mega Minions, a Fantastic Four-esque collection of superheroes with powers (flight, elasticity, a beam-gun eye) they can’t control.
Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures

Along the way, they’ve collected bits of vocabulary from around the world to spout their nonsense. In “Despicable Me 4,” I heard “antipasti,” “bazooka,” and something that sounded a bit like the old “Goonies” line: “Hey you guys!”

So the Minions keep evolving even if the movies don’t. Six movies in and counting, too much of a good thing is becoming an increasingly pressing question in “Despicable Me 4,” a silly, lighthearted installment from Illumination Entertainment that passes with about as many memories as a Saturday morning cartoon.

That’s not entirely a bad thing. Much of what makes the “Despicable Me” movies so enjoyable is that they avoid any sense of seriousness like the plague. They stand proudly in the Looney Tunes realm of animation, with little purpose beyond loosely stitching together slapstick sequences. Chances are you’ll cry during a Pixar movie, but if you cry during a “Despicable Me” movie, someone might be calling for help.

For “Despicable Me 4,” which opens in theaters July 3, the filmmakers, as if unsure of where to go next, have stitched together four or five subsequent storylines. The film opens with a high school reunion — the Lycée Pas Bon School of Villainy Class of ’85 — where Gru runs into an old rival, Maxime le Mal (Will Ferrell), a French-accented, cockroach-obsessed villain.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), right, runs into an old rival, Maxime le Mal (Will Ferrell), during a class reunion in “Despicable Me 4.”
Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures

Gru, however, is present as an agent for the Anti-Villain League. (One would hope that there is an Antihero League somewhere led by Travis Bickle and Walter White.) Gru captures and arrests Maxime, but Maxime soon escapes from prison and vows revenge on Gru, resulting in their family—wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and their three adopted children, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Madison Polan)—being placed in witness protection.

This gives the film a few inside jokes about Gru, who may now be a family man but still has the attitude of a supervillain trying to blend in. He’s trying to impress their neighbor, a snobby country club member named Perry Prescott (Stephen Colbert). But there’s also a new character at home: baby Gru Jr.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his wife Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) encounter some new obstacles with the arrival of Gru Jr. in “Despicable Me 4.”
Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures

That makes for some decent gags — the Minions, dressed like a race-car pit crew, help change dirty diapers with a T-shirt gun — but they’re all too familiar. Gru Jr. follows in the footsteps of another kid born into an atypical family with a big-chested, skinny-legged dad: Jack-Jack from “The Incredibles 2.”

That may be why “Despicable Me 4” also quickly moves on from this story, briefly veering into a heist movie. Gru is blackmailed by Prescott’s daughter Poppy (Joey King) into stealing a honey badger from his old school. Meanwhile, back at AVL headquarters, the Minions are being used as guinea pigs for a new serum. Five of them are turned into the Mega Minions, a Fantastic Four-esque collection of Minion-like superheroes with powers (flight, elasticity, a beam-gun eye) that they’re predictably useless to control. One boulder-shaped Minion is eager enough to swallow a bomb before it explodes, but not enough to stop his burp from doing just as much damage.

So yeah, it’s going to take a lot more than a mediocre sixth film to slow the Minions down. While there’s little to distinguish this latest, overstuffed “Despicable Me,” veteran director Chris Renaud (with co-director Patrick Delage and writers Mike White and Ken Daurio) finds themselves somewhere between cruise control and autopilot in this frenetic, carefree sequel.

The Minions save “Despicable Me 4.”
Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures

The “Despicable Me” films have always benefited from the somewhat judicious way they hand out their Minions. Even though they conveniently overshadow the franchise’s main characters, they’re second-banana henchmen, patiently waiting for their many cameos. In “Despicable Me 4,” one gets locked in a vending machine and spends the rest of the movie nonchalantly walking around. If that’s not a show of force, what is?

•••

A Universal Pictures release. Rated PG for action and crude humor. 95 minutes.