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Despicable Me 2

(2013) ** Pg
98 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Chris Renaud. Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig.

/content/films/4535/1.jpgThe bad guy who “Gru” into blissful domesticity returns in Despicable Me 2, a CGI-animated sequel that consistently chooses the road more traveled.

While the original Despicable Me, from 2010, wasn’t exactly one for the ages, it had provocative undertones courtesy of its antihero Gru (Steve Carell). Since the first film’s arc arrived at a nice Gru who embraced single-fatherhood with three little girls, there’s little point in blandly extending the story. Then again, though you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, you can squeeze lucre from a hit movie by sequelizing it.

And so Gru finds himself recruited by the Anti-Villain League to root out an undercover super-villain plotting to unleash a mutating serum. Gru would rather not get involved, but he does, reluctantly partnering up with AVL agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). Before long, Lucy’s positioned as the potential mother Gru’s exceedingly cute daughter Agnes (Elsie Fisher) has been pining for. The courtship of Agnes’ father gets Despicable Me into some uncomfortable territory, with distasteful women browbeating and/or boring Gru until he realizes the woman for him has been under his nose all along.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s a thinly developed character gradually reduced from a suffer-no-fools professional to a passive damsel in distress. Despicable Me gets by on such stereotypes: the writers take Carell’s comical invented Eastern European dialect as license for not-so-comical ethnic stereotypes: bad-guy candidates Floyd Eagle-san (Ken Jeong, who’s built his career on braying, thickly accented Asians) and Eduardo Perez, an obese Mexican restaurateur who may be luchador-styled super-villain “El Macho” in disguise (Benjamin Bratt inherited the role from Al Pacino, who walked off the film just two months ago).

Carell and Wiig know their way around funny line readings, and Despicable Me 2 throws a fair amount of diverting nonsense at the screen, from jelly guns to fart guns (with a pesky, pecky chicken in between). But even kids happy to be out of the house may smell the creative laziness and waywardness on this one. The defining cliché of the last decade of animated movies involves breaking into an ironic music video for a pop tune that’s become a wedding dance-floor standard; the Shrek franchise did it every time, inspiring plenty of copycats. Despicable Me 2 culminates in a double-music video finish designed to see audiences out in a pop-narcotic laughing-gas daze. As a tactic, it’s a poor substitute for a satisfying story.

The sequel retains a hint of the Euro-flavor and Dahl-lite tone of its predecessor, leaning heavily on Gru’s babbling, Twinkie-lookalike minions for crowd-pleasing CGI slapstick. Those minions get their own movie next Christmas, plugged in this movie’s credits. Too bad the creative team didn’t just skip right to that spinoff, bypassing this passable but rather limp adventure.

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