Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There’s a scene in THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE that has two dogs (voiced by Maya Rudolph and Bobby Cannavale) vomiting and one dog gobbling up said barf – and yet, somehow, the movie manages to not be the abysmal garbage fire that is the ‘F’ grade original. While it’s far from a modern animated classic, or even a middling one, director Cal Brunker’s sequel shows a slight improvement upon its predecessor. Not only does it veer away from dated pop culture references (besides the title) and doesn’t muddle its message (though it does overstate it), it takes a little better care in crafting character development and narrative drive.
Selfish Sully the squirrel (voiced by Will Arnett), his mute rat bestie Buddy and crew seem set for life having defeated the mobsters fronting the very literally named nut shop. He actually sums up in one sentence what took the previous filmmakers an hour and twenty five minutes to say, thus exposing how much of a waste of time these films are. I digress. Anyways, the second chapter’s plot, courtesy of Brunker, Bob Barlen and Scott Bindley (working from a story also by Brunker, Peter Lepeniotis and Daniel Woo) is akin to a very dumbed-down POM POKO (sadly without any scrotum stretching antics). Though romantic prospect Andie (voiced by Katherine Heigl) isn’t willing to accept the easy bounty, Sully and Co. have gotten used to the unbridled anarchy and gluttony. But after they accidentally blow up their nut paradise, they’re begrudgingly forced to return to scrounging in the wilds of Oakton’s Liberty Park. Meanwhile, corrupt millionaire Mayor Percival Muldoon (voiced with by Bobby Moynihan) threatens to bulldoze the park to make way for an amusement park to fill his coffers. With the mayor’s obnoxious, psychotic daughter Heather (voiced by Isabela Moner) and a maniacal exterminator (voiced by Peter Stormare) also on the hunt, the critter crew must learn teamwork to defeat the encroaching human threat – which is difficult considering Sully still has a hard-on for that nut shop.
Viewing this film requires a glass half-full perspective: At least the over-played needle-drops (like Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” and Etta James’ “At Last”) are less cringe-inducing than the original’s “Gangnam Style.” At least the story isn’t horribly convoluted. At least the filmmakers resist an over-reliance on juvenile humor and pratfalls (unlike the original). At least the cute-but-deadly menace, an adorbs mouse (voiced by Jackie Chan), is easier on the ear drums than Kevin Hart’s SECRET LIFE OF PETS version. And at least they are trying to world-build and learn how character arcs function (again, unlike the original).
The trouble is this requirement may prove difficult for some with little to no patience. Structural missteps abound: Sully shouldn’t be sulking about the loss of nut shop after he’s already decided the park is worth fighting for. Sully and Buddy’s friendship origin story flashback (which tells you why you should care about a currently-in-peril Buddy) needs to come earlier so we give a damn. And at the end of the second act, it rehashes things we just saw happen a few minutes ago.
The animation demonstrates stronger aesthetics and stylish panache (especially in the groundhogs’ trashing of the construction office, and the cute Chinatown mice in a rubber hazmat suit smack-down). However, the shenanigans don’t really elicit more than a cinematic shrug from the viewer. Humor falls flat. The dramatics hold very little grip on the audience. The children in my early preview screening at my local theater didn’t fidget, but they had no reaction at all during the movie – not even laughing at the “jokes.” Same goes for the adults, myself included. Plus, the synthetic symphony composed by Heitor Pereira sounds more like a rush job. At times, the cheap accompanying music sounded like two scores layered on top of each other.
Again, this franchise is slowly building towards mediocrity. Perhaps it’ll get there, since the end-of-credits stinger hints at the now in pre-production third film’s beginnings.
THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE is now playing.