The Nut Job

(2014) * 1/2 Pg
86 min. Open Road Films. Director: Peter Lepeniotis. Cast: Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Katherine Heigl.

/content/films/4638/1.jpgOkay, so you didn't plan ahead, but don't worry. The new animated flick The Nut Job has squirreled away enough lame nut puns to get you through the winter. More than enough.

Opening shortly after anyone who would want to see it has gone back to school, The Nut Job feels for all the world as if its being dumped into the marketplace because, well, it had to come out sometime. And while it's not aggressively bad, the picture doesn't distinguish itself in any way. Given the animation boom we're living in, that's probably the kiss of death. Who will want to see The Nut Job when they could go to the screen next door and see Frozen?

That said, there's no accounting for the taste of seven-year-olds, and this could well become their instant favorite movie...until they see another one and forget this one ever existed. Set in the late '50s in the fictional town of Oakton, The Nut Job concerns one Surly (sitcom star Will Arnett), a ruthless rodent self-described as "just a squirrel trying to get a nut." For participating in a nut-gathering incident gone disastrously wrong, Surly gets banished from the city park where a community of critters has been struggling mightily to save enough nuts to sustain them through winter.

So Surly, trailed as ever by his dim-bulb buddy Buddy, faces the harsh world of city streets and alleyways and storefronts, but lo! It's a nut store! Sweet providence! And a chance for Surly to redeem himself, if he chooses to play nice with those who've rejected him. Playing peacemaker is Katherine Heigl's Andie, but Liam Neeson's tin-pot tyrant Raccoon proves, y'know, a tough nut to crack. Meanwhile, a human drama—actually, a human noir—is playing out among the denizens of the nut store: crooks using the shop as cover to plan and execute a bank heist.

This would seem to be enough material for an eighty-six minute movie, but before long, it's apparent that the screenwriters have enough to sustain interest for about half that length. It should come as no surprise, then, that the rubbery The Nut Job has been expanded from director Peter Lepeniotis’ 2005 short film "Surly Squirrel." Like many rodents, the plot runs in circles, covering over and over again the same ground of whether or not characters can be trusted or redeemed until finally delivering the (obvious) answers.

During all that storyline stalling, one can enjoy the decent animation (offered up in 3D) that specializes in facial expressiveness. But, with the exception of the story's inciting event, the action is pretty dull, and the comedy, despite striving at times for a Looney Tunes vibe, lacks creative energy. But if you go, go armed with the knowledge that this is a Canadian-Korean production. That way, you won't be thrown for a loop by the bizarrely out-of-left-field animated cameo, in the closing credits, by Korean pop star Psy, who parties like it's 2012.

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