Minion mayhem in ‘Despicable Me 4’

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Should a review of a “Despicable Me” movie be a thoughtful analysis or just a list of the funny stuff the Minions do in it? As much as I might believe in the value of film criticism, I kind of suspect that even the finest points of assessment would be dismantled about as fast as a Minion can says “Bello!” Since they first emerged in the original “Despicable Me” in 2010, the Minions have marauded through movie theaters with impunity, soaking up some $4.6 billion in ticket sales and spawning a franchise that with its latest entry, “Despicable Me 4,” and counting the multiplying “Minions” spinoffs, numbers six movies and counting.

Along the way, they’ve accumulated bits of vocabulary from around the globe to add to their gibberish squeals. In “Despicable Me 4,” I heard “antipasti,” “bazooka” and something that sounded a little like the old “Goonies” line: “Hey you guys!” So the Minions continue to evolve even if the movies don’t. Six films in and with more on the way, too much of a good thing is becoming more of a pressing question in “Despicable Me 4,” a silly and breezy installment from Illumination Entertainment that passes by with about as much to remember it as a Saturday morning cartoon. That’s not all bad. Much of what makes the “Despicable Me” movies fun is that they avoid any sense of seriousness like the plague. They stand proudly in the Looney Tunes realm of animation, with little aim beyond loosely stitching slapstick sequences together.

There’s a good chance you might cry during a Pixar movie, but if you wept during a “Despicable Me” movie, someone might call for help. For “Despicable Me 4,” which opens in theaters July 3, the filmmakers have, as if unsure about where to go next, smashed four or five sequel plotlines together. The film starts with a school reunion – the Lycée Pas Bon School of Villainy Class of ’85 – where Gru encounters an old rival, Maxime le Mal (Will Ferrell), a French-accented, cockroach-obsessed villain. Gru is attending, though, as an agent for the Anti- Villain League. (One hopes there is somewhere an Antihero League led by Travis Bickle and Walter White.) Gru traps Maxime and arrests him, but in short order, Maxime breaks out of prison and vows revenge on Gru, sending their family – wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), and their three adopted children, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Madison Polan) – into witness protection.

Impress
This gives the movie a few jokes about Gru, who may be a family man now but who still has the bearing of a supervillain, trying to blend in. He tries to impress their next-door neighbor, a snobbish country club member named Perry Prescott (Stephen Colbert). But there’s also a new character at home: baby Gru Jr. That allows for some decent gags – the Minions, dressed like a race car pit team, help change dirty diapers with a T-shirt gun – but overly familiar ones. Gru Jr. is crawling in the footsteps of another child born into an atypical family with a big-torso’ed, spindly-legged father: Jack-Jack of “The Incredibles 2.” That may be why “Despicable Me 4” also quickly moves on from this narrative, shifting for a time into a heist movie. Gru is blackmailed by the Prescott daughter Poppy (Joey King) into stealing a honey badger from his old school.

Meanwhile, the Minions, back at AVL headquarters, are used as guinea pigs for a new serum. Five of them are turned into the Mega Minions, a Fantastic Four-like assemblage of Minion-sized superheroes that have powers (flight, elasticity, a ray-gun eyeball) that they’re predictably useless at controlling. One boulder-shaped Minion is keen enough to swallow a bomb before it detonates but not to prevent his belch from causing just as much damage. So, yes, it will take a lot more than a so-so sixth film to slow down the Minions. Though there’s little that distinguishes this latest, overstuffed “Despicable Me,” series veteran director Chris Renaud (with co-director Patrick Delage and writers Mike White and Ken Daurio) is in something between cruise control and autopilot on this careening, carefree sequel. The “Despicable Me” movies have always benefitted from the somewhat judiciously meting out their Minions. Even if they very handily upstage the franchise’s main characters, they’re second-banana henchmen who patiently wait for their many cameos.

In “Despicable Me 4,” one gets trapped in a vending machine and nonchalantly spends the rest of the movie there. If that’s not a show of force, what is? “Despicable Me 4,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association for action and rude humor. Running time: 95 minutes. Two stars out of four. By Jake Coyle

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