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The Nut Job – Review

July 30, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Opening in America to unfavourable reviews, I did not walk into this movie expecting much but was pleasantly surprised by the wit and humour on offer. Not to say there aren’t problems with The Nut Job, there are plenty but it’s not a complete waste of time either. The film is an expansion on the short film Surly Squirrel by Peter Lepeniotis who returns to direct, in a kid-friendly version that has too much time than it knows what to do with.

The Nut Job focuses on Surly the purple Squirrel, an arrogant driven loner voiced by Will Arnett who played a similar persona in The Lego Movie as Batman. He is accompanied by his mute friend Buddy the Rat; together they search for food for themselves rather than sharing their finds with the park as a whole. The ‘Liberty Park’ critters are led by Liam Neeson as Racoon, who is fed up with Surly’s selfish attitude, instead focusing on squirrels Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Grayson (Brendan Fraser) to deliver.

Andie is a sweet squirrel who tries to see the good in Surly, although we can’t because we know little of his background – one second he’s arrogant but lovable the next he’s angry and cruel in scenes that just feels out of place; a scene where Surly berates Buddy in front of Andie is extremely harsh. One of the few characters that is consistent is Grayson, though mainly because he’s the shallow heartthrob of the park who’s all muscle but no brain, providing goofy one-liners and we don’t expect much else.

Surly and Buddy try to rob a nut cart but end up blowing up the tree that has been stocking up on food for the winter. The enraged park banishes Surly into Oakton City where he comes across a nut shop and hatches a plan for a once-in-a-lifetime heist. This is reflected to comedic effect in the nut shop’s owners who are actually using the shop as a front to steal from the bank across the road. Watching both heists being planned and executed is clever and funny, because for the most part neither the humans nor the squirrels are aware of each other’s plans. The humans are led by mafia boss ‘King’ – fresh out of prison, he wants to make one big bust before he goes into retirement, accompanying him is ‘Fingers’, ‘Lucky’ and the sinister ‘Knuckles’ who never says a word but only cracks his knuckles. The humans aren’t given much time to shine and are boiled down to stock mafia tropes, focusing slightly more on the animals.

The movie dives straight into the humour and action so fast that you barely know the characters beforehand, but what it lacks in character it excels in puns, physical comedy and action. I was surprised at how versatile nuts are as a pun although you begin to groan after the third time a character mentions that a plan or idea is ‘nuts’; but by the end all I could was roll my eyes at the unoriginality. The other double entendres really do hit home and elevate the film above the audience of children it is obviously aimed at, because only kids would still find Gangam Style funny; though the song does appear with an element of surprise that made me laugh from sheer randomness alone. Co-produced in South Korea, the gag will probably do better there or if it was still 2012.

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Unlike previous CGI films like How To Train Your Dragon 2 or Up, there seems to be a step backwards in animation, half the time I felt like the animation was done on a home computer. There is a real dullness to the characters and the setting, while the overall look is unprofessional and lacking in the vibrancy I’ve come to expect. Lacking in personality but excelling in gags The Nut Job isn’t going to win any awards for script or style (though the 1950s setting is a nice touch), it is however a decent film to take kids to and though it doesn’t have much to entertain adults with, it is mercifully short.

The Nut Job is out in UK cinemas on August 1st

Sunny Ramgolam