4 out of 10
Will Arnett as Surly
Directed by Carl Brunker
The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature Review:
There are a lot of reasons a film gets made. A director has an intense personal vision he/she is trying to bring to light. A production company or studio has a considered commercial move in mind following recent audience trends. Sometimes it’s both. And sometimes a movie just appears out of the ether, asked for by no one and created for no real reason anyone can remember except that someone was able to. A lot of the later are made every year and most disappear from the screen and the mind as quickly as they appear, if we’re lucky. If we’re not, we end up with stuff like The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.
Surly (voiced by Arnett) has always been, as it says in his name, the most sarcastic and unhelpful squirrel in the park. The only park denizen who he ever cared for was his best friend Buddy [it’s that kind of movie]. After finally, and very much against his own nature, providing the animals of the park with all the food they could ever want by stealing an entire peanut shop, things are better than ever for Surly and his new friends. So naturally it can’t last. Without the need to scrounge for food, the animals have lost their survival instincts just when they need them most as the unscrupulous Mayor (Moynihan) has decided to bulldoze the park and put in an amusement park instead. Now Surly and the park animal’s only chance to survive is to put their disagreements behind them and work together to steal their park back.
No one involved seems more surprised at the appearance of The Nut Job 2 than the people who made it. The first film was just developed enough to serve its premise; it had a reason for the nut shop to be abandoned, a reason for Surly to find out about it, an impediment to taking it over and many harmless gags before reaching an ending without much in the way of a sequel hook. Director Brunker’s (taking over from Peter Lepeniotis) first job is to blow up everything from the first film, starting with the nut store itself, and reset the status quo back to the beginning. He’s certainly not the first person to start a sequel that way, and won’t be the last, but it’s also the most cynical way possible to start a sequel. It’s stating, in giant world spanning letters written with fire, that no one has the imagination or the interest in pushing the story new directions when it’s so much easier to just redo what has worked previously. It’s the cheapest way out of the ‘what to do next’ corner and that lack of effort is endemic to everything which comes after.
Arnett is as fun to listen to as ever, and is a good fit for Surly’s slowly thawing care for the animals around him, but compared to what he’s managed in stuff like The LEGO Batman Movie, he’s firing on half cylinders here. The material just doesn’t ask much of him, or of anyone else. The best fit turns out to be Heigle as Surly’s alter ego Andie who refuses to give in to the temptation for an easy life. The continual gag of her attempting to break into a Disney style song and dance routine only to be mocked for it by the others is one of the few times The Nut Job 2 courts its own identity, but it never lasts long. It’s easier to spend time with the Mayor’s psychotically-spoiled daughter (Moner) and her unfortunate bulldog (Cannavale) and his attempts to woo Surly’s dog Friday, Precious (Rudolph). There is simply no guiding idea behind anything in The Nut Job 2 beyond filling up 90 minutes of screen time.
A few good gags and an entertaining third act, when the film finally stops bothering with half-hearted attempts at character building and gives in to insane animation antics, aren’t enough to pull the film out of the hole it has dug for itself. What attempts it does make at integrating new ideas into the film, like the appearance of Mr. Feng (Chan) and his kung-fu mice, seem arbitrary at best (even if it does give us the film’s single best sight gag – a chemical suit filled with mice attempting to fight off pest control mercenaries). More often though it’s just a cynical waste of time, even its makers can’t make a good argument for.