Despicable Me 3 (2017)
90 min., rated PG.
The world could always live without a third “Despicable Me,” but as along as it fills a niche for the family film market and rakes in satisfying box-office sales, Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment will keep making them. If 2013’s “Despicable Me 2” felt overstuffed but was still enjoyable, “Despicable Me 3” is a tacked-on sequel that’s amusing but ultimately disposable. The same directorial team, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, and screenwriters, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, remain faithful to the runaway-hit animated series but achieve even more scattershot diminishing returns. Speaking of “diminishing,” the yellow, pill-shaped, gibberish-speaking Minions, which were thought to be more effective in small, pill-sized doses, are actually missed with their reduced screen time, even after their inspiredly silly 2015 feature-length spin-off.
As Anti-Villain League agents, Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig)—or, as Lucy calls them, “Grucy”—are living happily together with his three adopted daughters. The reformed villain and his wife are soon both fired from the AVL after they fail to catch international supervillain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), a washed-up 1980s child star who uses bubblegum as his most dangerous weapon. When Gru discovers he has a twin brother he never knew he had, he takes his family to meet his other half, the cheerfully rich Dru (Steve Carell again), sporting wavy blonde hair and living in the country of Freedonia. Meanwhile, Gru’s Minions end up in prison; Lucy wants to be a good mom and have mother-daughter time; Gru’s eldest daughter, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), misinterprets a marriage proposal from a local boy her age; and the youngest, Agnes (Nev Scharrel), wants to find a unicorn. With the brothers reunited and bonding, Gru desires getting his villainous mojo back by stealing a diamond with the help of Dru from Balthazar Bratt.
While “Despicable Me 3” is still too likable to be unendurable, there is far too much going on. When Gru tells Dru to focus, he might as well have been talking about the film itself. The script makes sure almost every character has something to do with a subplot after subplot, but it is at the cost of finding a focal point and everything vying for attention. The creation of Dru comes off more as a marketing gimmick and the opportunity for Steve Carell to play double-duty. Outside of some cute slapstick antics with the spandex-clad Gru and Dru attempting to pull off their first caper together, the makers don’t quite know what to do with Dru and don’t earn the twin brothers’ relationship as the emotional center. Sure, the target audience—every child that giggled at the Minions’ fart joke during the studio logo—will lap him up because, honestly, kids are amused by everything, but adults should get more of a kick out of the ‘80s nostalgia of Balthazar Bratt, who has a fondness for Michael Jackson and “dance fighting” his enemy. Voiced by Trey Parker, the purple jumpsuit-wearing shoulder-padded, mulleted-yet-balding Bratt is the most fun and comically inspired villain this series has seen.
There are zany, mischievous pleasures scattered throughout, and anything with the Minions is a highlight, including their trespassing into an “American Idol”-esque TV show and opera performance of “The Pirates of Penzance” that gets them thrown into prison. For the third time, Steve Carell is comfortable without being perfunctory as the European-accented Gru and seems to be having double the fun, now voicing needle-nosed twin brother Dru. Kristen Wiig also remains engaged in her daffy vocal work as Lucy. Get rid of Dru and up the participation of the Minions, and “Despicable Me 3” might have been even better off. As frantically paced and splashily animated as its predecessors, it’s still not bad as amiable trifles go. Hopefully the flash of a fake movie billboard for “Onions”—clearly modeled after the Minions in tear-producing vegetable form—is a sneak peek at what the Illumination animators can do beyond a fourth “Despicable Me” installment.
Grade: C +