Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 24, 2019)
As someone who writes about movies, I try to discern logic among different patterns. This means I attempt to figure out why some films succeed while others flop.
On the surface, 2014’s The Nut Job had “bomb” written all over it. A fairly inexpensive animated flick, it hit screens mid-January 2014 while 2013’s big holiday releases still dominated theaters.
Job earned persistently bad reviews and looked like a movie that would sink like a stone. However, it took in $64 million US and $120 million total worldwide, figures that allowed it to turn a passable profit.
Though blessed with a superior August release date, 2017’s sequel did flop, as it pulled in a pretty weak $65 million worldwide. This makes a third Job less likely.
In the original Job, we meet Surly (voiced by Will Arnett), a squirrel who lives up to his name. Self-centered and anti-social, he refuses to participate in the community that other animals in his park form.
Fed up with his antics, these critters banish Surly and his mute rat pal Buddy. Unhappy with his exile, Surly plots a robbery at a nut store to feed the community and allow him to re-enter.
Wacky hijinks result, right? Yeah, though by “wacky”, I suspect I mean “eye-rolling and predictable”.
Because I’m a cheap bastard, I latch onto retailer reward programs with a tight grip. When Job debuted, Regal Cinemas offered a massive bonus if you went to the movie.
Despite the bad reviews, I did so. The siren call of the bonus points proved irresistible, and the film couldn’t be as bad as those brutal reviews indicated, could it?
Yeah, pretty much. I went with a friend, and she tried to get me to leave mid-movie, but I insisted we watch the whole thing because I hoped it would improve as it went.
It didn’t. Job starts poorly and never rises above a persistent level of sub-mediocrity.
On the positive side, Job boasts a pretty good cast. In addition to Arnett, we find Liam Neeson, Brendan Fraser, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph, Stephen Lang and a few other recognizable names.
None add much to their parts. I can’t claim the actors do anything to harm the movie, but they fail to elevate Job either.
Not that I think they could do much to fix this wholly uninspired effort. The movie’s $42 million budget must’ve mainly gone to the actors, as I can’t find anything else about the production that would seem to warrant the money.
Animation seems cheap and crude. Job comes with computer work that seems more akin to material from the late 90s or early 2000s, so it doesn’t match with circa 2014 standards well.
In addition to the uninspired animation, we find an uninspired plot and uninspired characters. Job comes with roles that rarely rise above the level of simple archetypes, and none of them can feel lively or engaging.
The “plot” follows formulaic paths and goes down a series of tiresome arcs. Anyone over the age of 10 knows where the tale will go and won’t discover a single surprise or clever moment along the way.
Honestly, it wouldn’t take much effort to make Nut Job a peppy, bright caper flick, but it barely tries. It seems happy to explore well-trodden paths and not attempt anything fresh or clever.
Footnote: a tag scene shows up midway through the end credits, and another short animated bit arrives at the conclusion of the credits.