Lawrence Toppman

‘Minions’ means messy merriment

Scarlett Overkill from Universal Pictures' “Minions.”
Scarlett Overkill from Universal Pictures' “Minions.” Universal Pictures

You might ask many questions about the title characters in “Minions.”

Why did some evolve to have one eye and some two? Why do they always wear goggles? Why do they understand English perfectly without speaking it to anyone? What genetic advantages shaped their yellow bodies, which resemble the tubular light bulbs found in refrigerators?

You cannot ask, however, why someone made a movie in which they star. The two “Despicable Me” films, which used them as chattering sidekicks, grossed $1.5 billion worldwide, so a way had to be found to extend the franchise.

Thus “Minions,” the haphazardly written origin story that shows their mishaps across millennia, from their appearance as single-celled creatures to their first encounter with young Gru (Steve Carell in a cameo).

They spend most of the time smashing around London in 1968, where Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her husband, hipster/stoner Herb (Jon Hamm), plot to steal the royal crown and make her queen. Michael Keaton and Alison Janney have supporting roles as would-be supervillians but don’t get anything important to do.

Pierre Coffin co-directed both “Despicable Me” installments, providing the minions’ voices. He’s back as director, though with another co-director in Kyle Balda. But the writers of the first two (Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio) were ousted in favor of Brian Lynch.

The new team thinks that if mayhem is funny, five times the mayhem will be five times as hilarious. That’s not how movie math works, and too many scenes spin out of control. About the time Kevin the Minion becomes a giant, tromping around London like a towering yellow Tylenol, you realize the filmmakers have run out of ideas. Nor do they know how to end scenes: Kevin stays gigantic, until ... he simply isn’t.

Yet there are many diverting moments. It’s fun to hear bits of Spanish, French, Italian and English pop up in minion-speak, so you can almost make sense of it. I liked the dual homage to Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute,” with one minion humming an aria by birdcatcher Papageno and another embracing a fire hydrant and yelling “Papagena!” (Why? Who knows?)

The film spends most of its time with calm Kevin, the assertive leader who seeks a new master for the minions; Bob, the overeager little guy who thinks there’s nothing he can’t do; and Stuart, a ukulele player who’s always hungry. Yet even those personalities start to blend, and their individual strengths make no difference to the narrative.

I always assumed Gru kept the minions around as employees (or maybe just well-treated slaves), but it seems they always choose the bosses they serve and always seek the most despicable person around. “Minions” never explains why such good-natured little guys go through life with a can-do attitude in the service of evil, and a better movie would have done that.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

REVIEW

‘Minions’

The little yellow sidekicks leave the “Despicable Me” franchise to align themselves with supervillain Scarlett Overkill. Unmemorably enjoyable.

C+ STARS: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Alison Janney, Pierre Coffin.

DIRECTORS: Kyla Balda, Pierre Coffin.

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes.

RATING: PG (action and rude humor).

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