Review: 'The Nut Job'

We live in remarkable times, don't we? It's an era of wondrous entertainment options; plentiful art abounds, and we're never truly at a lack for awesomeness. Which, in a way, makes you all the more grateful once you see a film like "The Nut Job", a movie so lusciously horrible that it can't but help you reflect on all the better times you've had, times that include almost anything really, from taking out the garbage to learning how to do your own taxes. Yes, "The Nut Job", perhaps more than any animation of the past few years, inspires a sense of palpable wonder and chagrin – your mind will rattle with awed thoughts like "how in the world did anyone think this was a real movie / script / idea / thing?" It's just relentlessly awful.

The story of "The Nut Job" is handled with all the care and concern of microwaving a burrito at 3 A.M. after seven straight hours of a pub crawl. There's some pawing at blurry objects, cries for help, and hunger, so much hunger, for anything worthwhile to happen that would somehow turn this death spiral into a worthy narrative. There's a squirrel named "Surly" (voiced by Will Arnett) who only looks out for himself, and never the entire park of animals. How do we know this? Because the movie shows and tells us about two dozen times in the first five minutes. "That Surly," you'll often hear a tertiary character mumble, "sure does only look out for himself like a selfish squirrel, never caring a whit for the needs to the park". I mean, just that his parents even named him Surly feels like some sort of cosmic set-up, for you'd be hard pressed to find a genial and affable member of the rodentia order who was also named, you know, Surly.

Still, that's not even on the top 100 of idiotic things on display here, so let's just move on to the idea that winter is coming, and both the park and selfish Surly have designs on robbing a food cart that's selling nuts right outside the park borders. This feels reasonable, and if you can create a great children's story from a talking parrot ("Rio") or a friendly dragon ("How to Train Your Dragon") then you sure as heck can work with a bunch of squirrels (and groundhogs, and a raccoon) who want to rob a nut cart.

Unfortunately, and quite inexplicably, another plot is woven in, one where humans are planning to rob a bank across the street from the park, and they're using the nut cart and nut shop (from whence it came) as cover. This, on the face of it, is clearly stupid, but if you dig even deeper it's also stupid in that way as well. Why would a children's movie need a bank-robbing subplot?

Surly runs afoul of the local park magistrate, a raccoon cleverly named Raccoon (and voiced by Liam Neeson), which leads to his banishment from the gentle confines of the park. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Why does Surly the squirrel get a real name while Raccoon is named after what he is, a raccoon?" There's simply no telling. Perhaps Raccoon's parents were cruel and thought it would be hilarious to name him after what he was. Even crazier, this pattern is only repeated once more, with Mole (Jeff Dunham), while the other squirrels rock monikers like Grayson, Andie, and Precious. Within the implications of capricious decisions like these there's probably a way for us to find the reason for all human apathy, but we've still got to move on to the actual problems of the film, which, amazingly, we haven't broached.

No, the real deal issues with "The Nut Job" include the appalling lack of anything resembling comedy or ambition. Oh, there are jokes where people fart, and jokes where people are thrown into windows at top speed, making their face all flat, but there is no real inspiration to any of it, and the scenarios I've presented happen again and again, with no awareness that multiplying a non-joke doesn't lead to a laugh.

There are also logic problems, and these aren't nitpicky, because they defy the logic of the film's own reality. For instance, of course we have to accept talking animals and guys that use nut carts as bank robbing cover, that's the film's inherent stability, but what about the fact that a giant tree burns down in the middle of the park and no human notices? "The Nut Job" establishes that the police exist, because they pester the robbers upon occasion, and we know people exist in this world, because, you know, banks and robbing. But no one walks through the park, and no one is at all concerned with a giant tree burning down smack dab in the middle of everything. At some point the song, "Gangnam Style" is introduced, apropos of nothing at all, and squirrels will be electrocuted with no consequences, and shot at to no effect. A man will be able to hear a dog whistle.

There is also the not so troublesome aspect of foreshadowing major moves within the film, although we'd need a new word, something stronger even than telegraphing, a word that would encapsulate the filmmakers here basically holding up a sign to any audience saying, "Do you think this might come up again?" Surly the squirrel looks out for himself. Might this come up again? Raccoon banishes Surly without a trial, could Raccoon the raccoon not be all that benign a ruler? Andie (Katherine Heigl) thinks Surly has so much more potential than he's showing, and that he could be a huge help to the park food storage crew, though strangely enough Surly decides to move to Hollywood and become a dancer.  Additionally, Surly is awful, simply awful, and that's another issue with "The Nut Job": you hate this guy with the passion of a thousand suns. He's mean to his friends and co-conspirators alike, he's the sort of squirrel you'd never allow to marry your son or daughter. I'd level the advice just to avoid all adjective-named rodents with a negative connotation, but for all I know there's a pretty good dude out there going by the name of "churlish". You never can tell.

Overall, "The Nut Job" is precisely the sort of movie that's released in the sleepy days of January, buried among the award-chasers and slow wintery weekends. It's a miserable time at the movies, and if you choose to go you'll feel as though you're lost at sea, with no help of rescue, only 15 minutes in. Boring, poorly thought out, and simple to the point of being the cinematic equivalent of a zero note opera, "The Nut Job" is a children's movie you'd have to be a little crazy to enjoy.. See? There. I've now tried harder than "The Nut Job".

SCORE: 1.1 / 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and always gets a little happy when he hears winter is coming.