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 Not Despicable Enough

Steve Carell
Steve Carell
Universal Pictures
 90 Minutes
Rated: PG
Directed by: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker 
Despicable Me 3

What do you say when you’ve said everything there is to say about a subject? Well, when it’s a movie franchise, you just say the same things in a slightly different way and bring in a new character or two and hope no one notices. That type of studio thinking resulted in Aliens 3, Terminator 3, Beverly Hills Cop III, and any number of other dismal third wheels that tarnished the memories of superior, sometimes classic initial efforts. But in the summer of 2017, we are already at the fifth or sixth wheel of some franchises, so why quibble about something like Despicable Me 3?


Actually, as summer of 2017 efforts go, the third go around for Gru, his family of toddlers, and their minions of yellow Minion sidekicks isn’t as bad as the most recent Alien or Pirates of the Caribbean ventures. But not bad isn’t the same as good, and despite the presence of a lively new villain and one of the zaniest Minion set pieces ever, the least successful part of Despicable Me 3 is Gru, the despicable me himself.


When last audiences saw Gru (Steve Carell), he had renounced his villainous ways and, along with new wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and three adorable adopted daughters, settled down to a life of more or less domestic bliss and a new career as a member of the Anti-Villain League, doing battle with his former confederates in crime. But, as Despicable Me 3 begins, Gru has a new, or, rather, an old foe to deal with. Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) a former 80’s child star turned into 21st century supervillain, has managed to evade capture by Gru one too many times for the new head of the Anti-Villain League, so Gru gets the pink slip and tries to settle into full-time domestic life.


Gru’s retirement proves short-lived, however, as he soon learns he has a twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Carell), who is new filthy rich. Gru and family wind up staying in his brother’s fancy foreign mansion where Gru learns that his law-abiding brother secretly has designs on becoming a supervillain like Gru and the rest of their family throughout the centuries. Gru agrees to team up with his brother to pull off a big heist, recovering a fabulous diamond that Bratt has stolen. The robbery proves quite difficult because Dru turns out to be a complete klutz.


I imagine that the idea of twin brothers Gru and Dru was inspired by the old Spy vs. Spy cartoons in Mad magazine (Gru and Dru’s costuming is a variant on the trenchcoats worn by the magazine spies). But, other than the optics of the twin brothers, the entire premise is badly flawed. Dru looks slightly different than Gru (a full head of hair being the main distinction), but the two sound identical and, moreover, the idea of a good brother who wants to be bad vs. a formerly bad brother who’s now good is too convoluted for its own good. If anything, this was a concept that would have worked much better in the second movie, before Gru finally found his niche.


In fact, the entire film feels distressingly like bits and pieces of business that were left out of earlier movies in the series for reasons of pacing—and deservedly so. Gru’s wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) is no longer his partner in fighting crime, but, rather, is relegated to trying to prove herself as a mommy figure with his three adopted daughters. The daughters also have their own adventures, of sorts, the most noteworthy of which involves the youngest, Agnes (Nev Scharrel) deciding that a baby goat with a broken horn is actually a unicorn. Fortunately, audiences tend to be fairly tolerant of adorable moppets and baby goats, so that storyline will probably escape the wrath of the aisle seats, but the subplot is exceedingly lame. Middle daughter Edith (Dana Geier) doesn’t even have a storyline, yet she fares better than does oldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), who becomes the object of a local boy’s infatuation.


Fortunately, directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin have one reliable fallback they can always count on—the Minions. Most of the rascally yellow tykes run off on Gru when he abandons his life on crime, which allows them to have their own misadventures. They are considerably funnier than Gru is in this movie, as evidenced by the clip below, in which they appear on a reality TV competition and engage in a spirited, if completely unintelligible, rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan. For this stunt, they are rewarded with prison sentences, a fate that allows them to lampoon every prison movie ever made, a sort of Yellow Is the New Black.


The Minions are matched in their outrageous zaniness by Balthazar Bratt, who serves as the perfect embodiment of the 1980’s right down to his mullet hairdo. As voiced by Parker, Bratt turns his villainy into a gloriously self-indulgent fashion statement, overplaying the role to perfection. He even has his own army of Minion-lites, tiny flying robots that do his bidding and threaten to overwhelm Gru and Dru at the key moment in the movie. I frankly kept expecting to see a showdown between the Bratt-clones and the Minions, an epic battle royal that would have been the piece de resistance for the movie. Instead, audiences will just have to rely on their imagination as to how such an encounter would have turned out.


There’s no imagination required to know how Despicable Me 3 turns out, however. The movie relies on a gimmick that simply doesn’t prove to be funny enough or interesting enough to carry an entire movie. The result is a movie that drags, even at 90 minutes. There is plenty of action, especially in an extended finale involving Bratt unleashing his attack against Los Angeles, but it’s just not exciting or entertaining enough. The parts of the movie that do work, most notably the occasional appearances of the Minions, are still a delight to watch, but the bulk of the movie simply isn’t despicable enough.  

In this scene, the Minions do Gilbert and Sullivan.

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Despicable Me 3 (2017) on IMDb