There's so much to like about the "Despicable Me" series -- the bright, poppy art direction; Steve Carell's vocal combo of Bela Lugosi and Boris Badenov; and most of all, those goofy, semi-verbal yellow minions -- and yet, the original movie just never charmed me all that much.
The idea of a diabolical super-villain being turned into a kindly dad is a promising one, but Carell's Gru character seemed like such a softie to begin with (moon-stealing plans or no) that the shift never felt particularly outrageous or funny.
And if you thought "Despicable Me" was tame, wait until you see how much more neutered things get in "Despicable Me 2," which manages to strip nearly all of the characters of whatever sharp edges they once possessed. The minions are still wacky scene-stealers -- and once again, we don't get nearly enough of them -- but Gru and his daughters have been blanded down to bad-sitcom level.
This time around, Gru is a single dad, despite the best efforts of his pushy neighbor Jilliam (voiced by Nasim Pedrad), who is always trying to push him off on her single gal pals, and his daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), who are setting up online dating profiles for the reformed bad guy.
Gru gets recruited by the AVL (Anti-Villain League) to track down the person who has stolen an experimental serum that turns fluffy bunnies into giant purple pain merchants, and the League pairs him with agent Lucy (Kristen Wiig). They have a meet-cute when she uses her lipstick-taser on him.
The thief is one of several merchants at a nearby mall, so Gru and Lucy are set up in a bakery to keep an eye out on their fellow vendors. Exceedingly tame wackiness ensues.
It's one thing to turn Gru from an evil genius to a cuddly dad and boyfriend, but Agnes isn't nearly as entertainingly hyper as before, and even Margo has been rendered all swoony in her first crush on a boy -- Antonio (Moises Arias, "The Kings of Summer"), whose Mexican-restaurant-owning father Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt) may or may not be the guy Gru and Lucy are after, the one who's been injecting the minions with the serum and turning them into frizzy-haired beasts.
Little kids won't be too bored, but adults who found themselves charmed by the first "Despicable Me" may or may not be along for the ride this time. Universal has already announced a third sequel, "Minions" (which, sadly, isn't solely centered on those walking ids), and here's hoping Gru can be a little despicable-r next time. (Universal)