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‘Despicable Me 4’ review: Series’ latest has enough laughs, too many characters

It’s all happened so fast.

“Despicable Me” — a romp about an awkward supervillain-turned-hero voiced by Steve Carell and supported by these goofy, little, yellow Minions from a new animation studio then called Illumination Entertainment — arrived less than 15 years ago.

Today, “Despicable Me” is a huge franchise, in fact the most successful animated empire in history, with $4.6 billion tallied up for what’s now called simply Illumination and its parent company, Universal Pictures.

You can understand, then, why the series’ sixth entry, “Despicable Me 4,” is landing in theaters only two years after its predecessor, prequel “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” was released. (That film alone earned nearly a cool billion bucks worldwide.)

While sufficiently entertaining and, as is the “Despicable” way, seasoned with just the right amount of gleeful subversiveness, this latest adventure cooked up for the Fourth of July crowds isn’t the franchise’s strongest.

This isn’t exactly a new issue for “Me,” but “4” is, unquestionably, overstocked with characters. Director (and franchise co-creator) Chris Renaud has his hands full with Gru, wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Madison Polan) and the newest member of the family, baby boy Gru Jr. — along with that horde of minions (again voiced, hilariously, by Pierre Coffin). And that’s BEFORE you factor in the requisite villain, the Will Ferrell-voiced but forgettable Maxime Le Mal, his femme fatale girlfriend, Valentina (Sofia Vergara), and another newcomer, Poppy Prescott (Joey King).

Maxime, voiced by Will Ferrell, and Valentina, voiced by Sofia Vergara, are the villains of "Despicable Me 4." (Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures)
Maxime, voiced by Will Ferrell, and Valentina, voiced by Sofia Vergara, are the villains of “Despicable Me 4.” (Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures)

Although the latter gets a relatively sizeable amount of screen time, the movie would have benefited from more of this gifted girl with supervillainous ambitions, who puts the screws to Gru as he and the family are hiding out in suburbia.

Gru and company find themselves in this pickle after Gru, an agent for the Anti-Villain League, arrests Maxime, a rival since their school days. Maxime, who has a serious affinity for the cockroach — and its “unsquishability” — promises to exterminate Gru after being bested by him at a school alumni function. (By the way, Gru arrives at the school, very coolly, in a sports car, followed by a few of the minions, decidedly less coolly and quite clumsily, in a much smaller version of said car. It’s the first of the movie’s delightful, clever-as-always Minion-centric sequences.)

Maxime almost immediately escapes from prison and, backed by Valentina and an army of cockroach minions — sets out to kidnap Gru’s son.

And thus the hiding and fake identities for Gru — who’s now solar panel salesman Chet Cunningham — and the clan in the idyllic town of Mayflower. Lucy, er, Blanche has trouble faking it as a skilled hairdresser, while Gru gets nowhere trying to chum it up with yuppy neighbor Perry Prescott (Stephen Colbert). The biggest problem, though, is Perry’s daughter, as Poppy knows her one-time supervillains and wants something from Gru to stay quiet.

Teen girl Poppy, voiced by Joey King, blackmails Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, into helping her with a heist - and he brings along Gru Jr. and a couple of Minions -- in a scene from "Despicable Me 4." (Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures)
Teen girl Poppy, voiced by Joey King, blackmails Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, into helping her with a heist – and he brings along Gru Jr. and a couple of Minions — in a scene from “Despicable Me 4.” (Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures)

Working from a screenplay by “White Lotus” creator Mike White, who also wrote the 2023 Illumination release “Migration,” and series veteran Ken Daurio, Renaud and co-director Patrick Delage keep things moving at the briskest of clips. And they mine plenty of laughs, mainly from the Minions.

Our prank-loving friends enter into training by the Anti-Villain League, under the leadership of Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), who offers five of them a “super serum,” which, if it doesn’t kill them instantly, will give them otherworldly powers. The latter happens (phew), with the “Mega Minions” quintet now possessing abilities stolen from, er, inspired by various superheroes. (If you think about it, it probably was only a matter of time before one of the one-eyed Minions got powerful laser beam capability a la X-Men mainstay Cyclops.)

Pierre Coffin voices the powerful Mega Minions in Despicable Me 4," (Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures)
Pierre Coffin voices the powerful Mega Minions in “Despicable Me 4,” (Courtesy of Illumination & Universal Pictures)

With all the characters and all the zaniness, there isn’t much room for thematic work — especially disappointing given White’s involvement — or meaningful character arcs. Oh, sure, we suspect that Gru Jr., who revels in tormenting his father, will warm to Gru eventually. On the other hand, though, threads such as youngest daughter Agnes’ unwillingness to use her fake name, “Britney,” because it is a lie, are allowed to wither after only a little exploration.

None of this is likely to matter at the box office, of course, as “Despicable Me 4” is poised to be plenty pleasing.

This surely isn’t the last irreverent hurrah for the franchise — Renaud told Deadline a Mega Minions spinoff probably won’t be next, but no doubt something “Despicable” this way will come — so here’s hoping we’ll get a movie a bit more focused and filling.

We’ll take these empty calories, along with all these Minions, to be sure, but the creative folks serving them up are capable of more.

‘Despicable Me 4’

Where; Theaters.

When: July 3.

Rated: PG for action and rude humor.

Runtime: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Stars of four): 2.5.


Source: Berkshire mont

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