THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE-MOVIE REVIEW

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You don’t need to see the first Nut Job movie to follow the sequel’s nonsensical plot and the script’s preference for poor quality puns. The movie, a sub-par animated sequel burns with a proletarian rage. The film’s mean-spirited tone picks on both creatures and humans, like construction workers for being illiterate, animals almost too dumb to survive and the wicked rich. As in the original, the idea of jokes end in to burps and farts, as well as physical comedy gags in which a character is electrocuted, bonked on the head, or otherwise injured in a way that's played for laughs. Some of the human characters use weapons, particularly the gun-toting mayor. A father and daughter are almost sadistic in the way they treat animals, and a child is shot with a dart gun. But there's a clear message about the idea of creating your family by choice -- in this case, a community of animals that protect and take care of one another.

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The greedy, property-developing Mayor of Oakton City (Bobby Moynihan) threatens the city park home of Surly Squirrel (Will Arnett) and friends in a story that may remind you of a rodent version of Francesco Rosi’s Hands Over the City. This soon dissolves into a frenetic, madcap caper that sees Surly enlist the help of kung fu master Mr Feng (Jackie Chan), the impossibly cute “weapon of mass destruction”. In seeking to wring every drop of profit from his province, the mayor destroys and develops the city park where these rodents enjoy a collective lifestyle, in order to build an amusement park, Liberty Land, a monument to crass consumerism and cutting corners. When the rodents resist this development, the Mayor unleashes exterminators to violently suppress the uprising. The most terrifyingly sadistic villain appears to be Heather (Isabela Moner), the Mayor's daughter, a fiery-haired demon in a small child's body.

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No other animal other than Surly Squirrel gets more than a few scraps of screen time, including Jackie Chan as Mr Feng, the leader of a Chinatown mice gang and Bobby Cannavale as a dimwitted pup. Surly’s relationship with his love interest, Andie (Katherine Heigl), is a story where he does things the easy way while she moralises about the importance of hard work and coddles Surly through his tantrums.

This is a film of excesses and extremes. From the orgiastic festival of nuts that the film opens with, to the violent mayhem that it descends into, Nutty by Nature is a relentless melee. It's a tornado of whirling dervish rodents battling ham-fisted humans over the sanctity of their land. It's an unexpectedly radical, if otherwise rather rote animated sequel. The director Cal Brunker, previously a storyboard artist for Despicable Me does not bring the warmth of that movie to this effort. Mr. Brunker, who wrote the script with five other people, fashions Nut Job 2 as its own dull amusement park ride, where slapdash animation makes for few thrills.

★★

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