"Minions" Does The Bare Minimum

“Minions” sees Universal Pictures cook up an origin story for the yellow, capsule-shaped scene-stealers from the “Despicable Me” series. It might be the biggest no-brainer in the history of the studio.

The adorable little wannabe bad guys have been a merchandising boon for Universal and parent company Comcast, going from unknown commodity to having their own theme park ride in two years flat.

From design to characterization, they’re perfect vessels for all-ages silliness, their bag of tricks bottomless. Expressive but nonsensical hybrid language. Unwitting sweetness. Rubbery composition ideal for physical comedy. True to form, the characters have found world domination by accident, animated film sidekicks turned star attractions.

The first “Minions” movie has but two questions to answer: Are audiences better off for knowing the Minions’ backstory? Can the critters carry their own film without the assistance of their eventual leader, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell)?

The answer to both questions is mostly “no,” as the project settles for ordinary at every turn.

Its first 30 minutes are its best. A likable but over-narrated opening sequence sees the titular henchmen (once again voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) march through world history, looking for an evil master to serve. From dinos to cavemen to vampires, the accident-prone Minions are great at finding bosses but awful at keeping them. By 1968, they’re lost in the Arctic and starved for purpose, leading three brave little pills – Kevin, Bob, and Stuart – to head for civilization.

Replete with a late 1960s soundtrack, the movie turns into a surprisingly committed period piece, dropping its three leads into New York City and then on a road trip to a villain convention in hopes of finding employment.

As delectable as the idea of “Villain Con” is, it’s quickly thrown aside in favor of a deadly uninteresting heist storyline. Once Kevin, Bob, and Stuart meet up with famed villainess Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), they soon end up in a battle over Queen Elizabeth’s crown and the movie goes nowhere at a hyperactive, breakneck pace.

Bullock proves a terribly unexciting voice actor while the rest of the voice cast – Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney – gets nothing to do. Worse yet, that nothing takes far too much screen time away from the Minions who are reliably adorable but without purpose for much of the running time.

The movie ends up occupying a weird, paradoxical space in which it offers too much and too little of its title characters. Perhaps most telling is that it leans on a predictable but tremendously enjoyable climactic cameo that suggests that when it comes to the Minions, less is much, much more.

“Minions” is sporadically entertaining, but when today’s youth inevitably look back on their favorite tiny, yellow, goggled henchman, they won’t be thinking of this movie.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: July 10, 2015
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Screenwriter: Brian Lynch
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Pierre Coffin
MPAA Rating: PG (for action and rude humor)