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Watch The Nut Job Online “The Nut Job” also offers a lesson in balance. The movie is engaging about half the time. Half the jokes land. And about half the characters make sense. It’s certainly a fine springboard of an idea: To survive winter, some park-dwelling critters try to rob a nut store, while the store’s shifty owners have really set up shop to rob the neighboring bank. Kind of brilliant, really. But the movie never fully capitalizes on the layered premise, never distinguishing itself in the overcrowded genre of animated animal adventures.
“Ratatouille” this ain’t. Surly is the typical loner antihero, his only friend a mute rat named Buddy. The purple squirrel skirts around the edges of the park while the other creatures follow the sagacious rule of Raccoon (Liam Neeson). These include a vain daredevil squirrel named Grayson (Brendan Fraser).
After a minor nut heist goes wrong, Surly gets banished to the city — a harsh environment populated by vicious city rats. (Studebakers, cable cars and squeaky clean billboards reveal the story is set in the 1950s.) It’s also home to Maury’s Nut Shop, which has been commandeered by mob kingpin King (Stephen Lang) and his bumbling thugs.
As Surly homes in on this big score, his former park acquaintances learn of the prospect and enlist in the action. Double crosses, mishaps and fart jokes ensue.
“The Nut Job” puts together a solid mix of voice talent, from the unmistakable Neeson to chameleonic performers Maya Rudolph as a combative pug and Jeff Dunham as a consigliere-type mole.
One crucial misfire is casting Katherine Heigl as Surly’s supportive “love interest” Andie, especially following a Hollywood Reporter expose that earned her the title “Hollywood’s most-hated actress.” It’s hard to listen to Heigl give peppy encouragement while simultaneously envisioning her screaming at a production assistant for not making her cafe au lait right.
But voice work can take things only so far if the script is wonky. “The Nut Job” (credited to Daniel Woo, Lorne Cameron and director Peter Lepeniotis) feels pulled in different directions. It’s clearly set decades ago, yet the animals speak with modern lingo and the humans don’t.
There aren’t a lot of movies I’ve genuinely dreaded going to see, but The Nut Job was one of them. The reason for my apprehension, I suspect, is the implementation of not one but two fart jokes in the trailer. Mind you, I generally find farts hilarious, but when they’re in the promotional material, it often signals that there’s nowhere left for the rest of the film’s humor to go. Even more depressingly, however, my suppositions were proved true by The Nut Job, a confused, puerile “family” adventure that may make children giggle, but flushes the prospect adult engagement right down the toilet.
Will Arnett (Arrested Development) plays Surly, a self-interested squirrel who lives on the fringes of a city park with his mute pal Buddy (Robert Tinkler) while the rest of its animal inhabitants band together for survival. When a plot to steal nuts from a human vendor’s cart ends with the community’s winter supplies up in flames, Surly gets blamed, and subsequently banned from the park.
Soon after, he spots a nearby nut shop that promises untold riches of food for his estranged companions, and Surly reluctantly teams up with Andie (Katherine Heigl), another squirrel, to restore their stash and usher him back into their good graces. But Andie finds herself in the middle of a simmering conflict when the park community leader, Raccoon (Liam Neeson), remains steadfast is his disapproval of Surly – whether or not he helps them.
There the pair stumble onto, as Surly calls it, “the lost city of Nutlantis” or Maury’s Nut Shop. The store is a front for bank-robbing mobsters but is indeed filled with nuts, and Surly and Buddy begin plotting a raid. Meanwhile, Liberty Park’s resident do-gooder, a squirrel named Andie (Katherine Heigl), negotiates her way onto the break-in crew, although her ultimate goal is saving the park residents, while Surly, per usual, cares only about No. 1.
“The Nut Job” is set in the mid-20th century, and there are some mildly amusing reminders of the era, from mobsters who call women dames to a dame with the film-noirish name of Lana. Some of the action also harkens to another time, with sight gags and heavy use of pratfalls more reminiscent of “Tom and Jerry” cartoons than recent animated features. Sometimes the punch lines land and sometimes they don’t, but overall the result is pleasantly nostalgic. In fact, the most dated part of the movie is when the final credits roll to the tune of “Gangnam Style,” sung by an animated Psy.
That feeling of been-there-done-that is pervasive, with many of the jokes sounding like they were ripped off from other movies. When brainless park hero Grayson (Brendan Fraser) says his cologne is made of falcon tears, it sounds like a bit from “Anchorman,” only less amusing.
The brightest moments come courtesy of a pug named Precious (Maya Rudolph), who is at first a menace to Surly and Buddy but soon becomes their adorable accomplice.
Visually, “The Nut Job” is more successful. When Surly first moves to the city, we see the world from his vantage point, with each pounding foot looking like an object of destruction. And the moment the park’s food goes up in flames inside an oak tree looks spectacular and makes the 3-D worth it (but only momentarily).
Of all the flaws of “The Nut Job,” Surly’s grouchy attitude is one of the hardest to overcome. He’s not a very fun character to travel with, even when he evolves, predictably, into a kinder, gentler squirrel with an after-school-special-worthy lesson to share. There are never enough kid-friendly movies, it seems, so Surly and his plot will suffice. But when you compare “The Nut Job” to the growing list of children’s movies that also delight adults, it’s hard to go back to the way things were.