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'Despicable Me 3' finds a loopy series finally running out of gas

It's even short on Minions.
Despicable Me 3
Steve Carell is funny again, we guess, as reformed supervillain Gru in "Despicable Me 3." Credit: Illumination and Universal Pictures

‘Despicable Me 3’
Directors:
Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Voices of: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig
Rating: PG
2 (out of 5) Globes

It had to happen eventually. When the first “Despicable Me” was released seven years ago, it was a breath of fresh air — a loopy absurd-a-thon with guns that fired octopi and shrunken elephants and, of course, those babbling yellow whatzits known as Minions. It moved fast and silly, and it even overcame its stock “grinch learns to love lovable kids” plot. Its formula would have seemed hard to repeat, but the sequel heroically did just that. Even the Minions spin-off movie was fine, not because it was good but for the simple fact that Minions are mysteriously never not delightful.

The threequel is another matter. It’s fine. But it’s fine the way another so-so episode of a beloved TV show you watch religiously is fine. It's depressing that it's fine, because it shows a once-inspired series is finally low on gas. It has some good, batty sights: explosive bubble gum, a giant robot rampaging over Los Angeles. This time, though, the weirder moments don’t distract from the overarching arrogance of round three, assumes masses will show up even if no one involved tried very hard, which they didn’t. (Of course, as many aging franchises have learned this summer, that’s not always the case.)

This episode is all about the fear of boring domestication. Then again, so was the last one. The hook this time is reformed super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) learns he has a brother he never knew existed, who was separated from him at birth, “Parent Trap”-style. Dru is a trust fund failure, devastated that he never got into the family business of stealing giant objects, like pyramids or the Eiffel Tower. Gru wouldn’t mind backsliding, knowing full well that would ruin his marriage (to Kristen Wiig’s goodly “Anti-Villain League” agent) and his no-longer-new stint as a father (to Miranda Cosgrove and Dana Gaier).

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Dru is mildly funny. He has the same unplaceable Eastern European accent as Gru, but he also has hair — longish blonde locks he likes to head-flip a la Farrah Fawcett — and no skill with thievery. That’s about it. Eventually, Gru also has to battle a far funnier nemesis: a kid TV star named Balthazar Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker) who aged into a bitter world class thief, who so pines for his long-gone ’80s glory that he still rocks shoulder pads and a bad mustache and a mullet. Bratt carries the movie whenever he’s onscreen, but it goes slack when he’s not.

There aren’t even much in the way of Minions. This probably sounded like a good idea; they have their own spinoff movies anyway. They score the film’s finest moment — yet another musical number, but this one for Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” (!!) — and they manage to do it during a stretch that should be the low-point: a beyond crass crossover moment with the awful movie “Sing,” done only because that was made by the same animation house. That’s “Despicable Me 3” in a nutshell: periodically charming but also utterly, despicably cynical.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
 
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