Review: ‘Despicable Me 4,’ starring the voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Miranda Cosgrove, Sofía Vergara, Steve Coogan, Joey King, Stephen Colbert and Pierre Coffin

June 26, 2024

by Carla Hay

Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin), Silas (voiced by Steve Coogan), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), Agnes (voiced by Madison Polan), Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Gru Jr., Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) in “Despicable Me 4” (Image courtesy of Illumination and Universal Pictures)

“Despicable Me 4”

Directed by Chris Renaud; co-directed by Patrick Delage

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the fictional U.S. city of Mayflower, the animated film “Despicable Me 4” features a group of characters portraying a spy’s family that goes into hiding, their enemies and their neighbors.

Culture Clash: After a high school reunion turns sour, Gru (a former supervillain who now works as an agent for the Anti Villain League) and his family go into hiding in Mayflower when they find out that Gru’s enemy Maxime Le Mal wants to kidnap the family’s infant son.

Culture Audience: “Despicable Me 4” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the “Despicable Me” franchise, and animated films that have short attenion spans with their plots.

Maxime Le Mal (voiced by Will Ferrell) and Valentina (voiced by Sofía Vergara) in “Despicable Me 4” (Image courtesy of Illumination and Universal Pictures)

“Despicable Me 4” falls into a sequel trap of trying to cram too many things in a story. The results are an unfocused and occasionally amusing animated film that has several subplots that go nowhere. Children under the age of 8 and die-hard fans of the “Despicable Me” franchise might enjoy this movie more than viewers who can’t overlook the movie’s obvious flaws.

Directed by Chris Renaud and co-directed by Patrick Delage, “Despicable Me 4” was written by Ken Daurio and Mike White. The central character in the “Despicable Me” movies is a former supervillain named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), who now works as an agent for the Anti Villain League. The “Despicable Me” movie series began with the 2010 film “Despicable Me” and continued with 2013’s “Despicable Me 2” and 2017’s “Despicable Me 3.” Like many movie franchises, the first movie in the series is still the best. Gru works with miniature yellow creatures (who don’t speak but make noises) called Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin), which are Gru’s assistants that have their own spinoff movie series.

In “Despicable Me 4,” there’s not one but two storylines about separate abductions. There’s a story about a family that goes into hiding by relocating to another city, but the family’s patriarch and matriarch try to “fit in” with snobs in their new neighborhood. There’s a storyline about former school rivals who’ve turned into bitter enemies. There’s a subplot about five of the Minions turning into superheroes called Mega Minions. It’s just all too much going on in this overly busy plot, and not much of it comes together in a cohesive way. The movie’s plot often looks like sketches strung together.

“Despicable Me” begins with Gru attending a Class of 1985 reunion at his alma mater high school Lycee Pas Bon, a learning institution for future villains. At the reunion, Gru is miffed that his former school rival Maxime Le Mal (voiced by Will Ferrell) has received the Golden Alumni award. It leads to Maxime and Gru reigniting their feud after Gru is responsible for getting Maxime arrested. Maxime and his sultry girlfriend Valentina (voiced by Sofía Vergara) then hatch a plot to kidnap Gru’s infant son Gru Jr.

Maxime (who is obsessed with cockroaches) sends a video threat to Gru while Maxime is in jail. The Anti Villain League’s efficient leader Silas Ramsbottom (voiced by Steve Coogan) arranges for Gru and Gru’s family to go into a “witness protection” type of relocation to the city of Mayflower, where they will pose as a typical middle-class family. Gru’s family consists of his cheerful wife Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and their daughters Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), Agnes (voiced by Madison Polan) and Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), along with baby Gru Jr. The family also has a white goat named Lucky that they can’t take with them to their new home.

The family members are given new names and new identities. Gru’s new name/identity is Chet Carmichael, a solar panel salesman. Lucy’s new name/identity is Blanche Carmichael, a hair stylist at an upscale salon called Mane on Maine. Various antics ensue regarding Gru/Chet and Lucy/Blanche trying to become friends with the snooty family next door: Perry Prescott (voiced by Stephen Colbert), who owns Prescott Motors, the largest auto dealership in the state; his socialite wife Patsy Prescott (voiced by Chloe Fineman); and their stuck-up teenage daughter Poppy Prescott (voiced by Joey King), who later engages in blackmail about a secret that she discovers. The movie also has time-wasting scenes showing mishaps involving Gru’s daughters in a karate class, as well as an inexperienced Lucy having a hair disaster with an obnoxious customer named Melora (voiced by Laraine Newman) at Mane on Main.

The movie’s soundtrack music is steeped in 1970s and 1980s nostalgia. The Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” The Sylvers’ “Boogie Fever,” Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana (At the Copa),” “Guns N’Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” are some of the songs that are prominently featured in the movie. Pharrell Williams’ “Double Life,” an original song written for the “Despicable Me 4” soundtrack, is obviously trying to repeat the Oscar nomination success of Williams’ “Happy” from the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack. “Happy” is by far a better song, while the bland “Double Life” is unlikely to get an Oscar nomination or win any major awards.

“Despicable Me 4” has adequate-to-good performances from the voice cast, but what sinks the movie is the fact that the screenplay and direction have too many distractions. There’s a flurry of action scenes that seem more manic than well-conceived. The ending will get mixed results from viewers, since it just seems like a lazy way to conclude the story. Part of the fun of the “Despicable Me” franchise is in how Gru and his allies handle the villains that are pitted against them. The ending of “Despicable Me 4” is a mushy conclusion that further muddles and diminishes the anti-hero personality of Gru.

Universal Pictures will release “Despicable Me 4” in U.S. cinemas on July 3, 2024.

Review: ‘Strays’ (2023), starring the voices of Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher and Randall Park

August 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher), Hunter (voiced by Randall Park) and Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx) in “Strays” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Pictures)

“Strays” (2023)

Directed by Josh Greenbaum

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “Strays” features a cast of dogs and a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four stray dogs band together to get revenge on the sleazy and abusive man who abandoned one of the stray dogs.

Culture Audience: “Strays” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and anyone who doesn’t mind watching intentionally vulgar comedies about adorable animals that have some sweetness with the raunchiness.

Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) and Will Forte in “Strays” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The purpose of “Strays” is to disrupt the image that people have of movies where cute animals talk. It’s the “Jackass” of talking animal movies: crude, comedic camaraderie. If you can’t tolerate a lot of jokes about bodily functions, then avoid this film.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum and written by Dan Perrault, “Strays” has been very clear in its marketing that this movie is not a “family-friendly film” that’s appropriate for people of all ages. This is most definitely a very adult-oriented film for adults who aren’t easily offended when watching movies filled with cursing, gross-out scenes involving body waste, and explicit talk about sex. The fact that domesticated dogs who talk like humans are supposed to be the source of all this raunch is the whole point of the movie.

In “Strays” (which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city but was filmed in and around Stone Mountain, Georgia), viewers are first introduced to the movie’s narrator. He’s an optimistic and eager-to-please Border Terrier (voiced by Will Ferrell), who has lived his entire life with a loser named Doug (played by Will Forte), who never gave this dog an official name. Instead, Doug calls the dog horrible names that usually have the word “shit” in the name. (In real life, this Border Terrier is a female named Sophie.)

In the beginning of the movie, bachelor Doug is unemployed and living in a messy house. Doug spends his days and nights getting stoned and masturbating. A phone conversation between Doug and his mother reveals that Doug can’t live near a school that has children, which is the movie’s way of saying that Doug is a registered sex offender. Because the Border Terrier doesn’t know any better, he thinks Doug is a great person.

Doug likes to do something that the Border Terrier thinks is a game called “Fetch and Fuck.” Doug throws a tennis ball far away, so the Border Terrier can run off and fetch the ball. Doug only does this because he hopes the dog will get lost and never find his way back home. When the dog inevitably does find his way back home, Doug says out loud in anger: “Fuck!”

One day, Doug drives the Border Terrier several miles away, into the inner part of a big city where the dog has never been to before. Doug throws the tennis ball, knowing that this dog will be too far away to walk back to the house. Doug then drives away. Doug’s heinous plan works, and the Border Terrier gets lost.

While out on the street at night, the Border Terrier meets a rebellious and tough-talking Boston Terrier named Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx), who sees how naïve this Border Terrier is and offers to teach him how to survive on the streets as a stray dog. (This Boston Terrier’s name is real life is Benny.) Bug calls this Border Terrier the name Reggie, since that’s the name that one of Doug’s girlfriends used to call this Border Terrier.

Bug tells Reggie that humans can’t be trusted and a dog’s life is better without having an owner because the dog has the freedom to do whatever the dog wants. Bug believes that humans “brainwash” dogs into thinking that dogs need humans. Bug also tells Reggie that stray dogs shouldn’t get too close to other dogs either, because all stray dogs should eventually learn to fend for themselves. Bug’s past is eventually revealed to explain why he detests humans. One of Bug’s quirks is that he is fixated on humping inanimate objects, including furniture (Sofia Vergara voices a character called Dolores the Coach) and lawn decorations.

Soon, Reggie is introduced to two of Bug’s closest dog acquaintances: Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher) is an Australian Shepherd who is intelligent and has a super-keen sense of smell. She is a stray because her previous owners preferred to have a puppy. (In real life, this Australian Shepherd’s name is Elsa.) Hunter (voiced by Randall Park) is a Great Dane who is insecure and often fearful. Hunter trained to be a police dog, but instead he was placed in a retirement home to be a therapy dog for the elderly residents, and he ran away. (In real life, this Great Dane’s name is Dalin.)

This motley canine quartet then goes on a series of misadventures. All other animals in the movie do not talk. The only living beings that talk in the movie are dogs and humans. An English bulldog named Chester (voiced by Jamie Demetriou) makes a brief but memorable appearance as a neurotic dog who imagines that there is an invisible, electrical fence surrounding his front yard. The four strays also encounter a German Shepherd named Rolf (voiced by Rob Riggle), a K-9 police dog who trained with Hunter at the same K-9 academy.

Two other noteworthy dog characters in the movie are a philosophical Labrador Retriever named Gus (voiced by Josh Gad) and a feisty Chihuahua named Shitstain (voiced by Harvey Guillén), who is almost as combative as Bug. And when there’s a movie about stray dogs roaming around a city, there are inevitable scenes of the dogs trying to evade capture from the animal control officers. “Strays” also has some scenes that take place in an animal shelter, where an animal control officer named Willy (played by Brett Gelman) has a job that’s similar to a jail guard/janitor.

Dennis Quaid makes a cameo portraying himself as a bird watcher. Why is Quaid in this movie? Quaid is the star of 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose” and 2019’s “A Dog’s Journey,” two sentimental dramas about a “talking” dog (voiced by Gad) who gets reincarnated and whose thoughts are heard in voiceover narration. Quaid and Gad being cast in “Strays” is obviously the “Strays” filmmakers’ way of poking fun at family-oriented talking dog movies.

For a great deal of the story, Reggie is denial that Doug abandoned him and that Doug is not a good person. When the truth finally sinks in with Reggie, he decides that he’s going to get revenge on Doug, with the help of his new stray dog friends. If anyone watching “Strays” complains about how unrealistic this movie is, the question must be asked: “What part of ‘talking dog movie’ do you not understand?”

The comedy in “Strays” is far from award-worthy, but it does bring some laughs, and it doesn’t try to pretend to be lofty art. The biggest flaw in “Strays” is an over-reliance on jokes and gags about defecation. However, the best parts of the movie have to do with the friendship that develops between these four dogs. Hunter has a crush on Maggie, so there’s potential for more than a friendship between them.

The expressions on these dogs’ faces are enough to charm viewers who like dogs, although obviously much of what is in the movie involves visual effects using computer-generated imagery. The voice actors also play their roles capably, with Foxx and Ferrell being the obvious standouts. As long as viewers don’t have skewed or misunderstood expectations for “Strays,” it can be amusing entertainment with some genuine, laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not the type of comedy for everyone, but neither is “Jackass.”

Universal Pictures will release “Strays” in U.S. cinemas on August 18, 2023.

2020 Golden Globe Awards: presenters announced

January 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the organization the votes for the Golden Globe Awards) and Dick Clark Productions (which co-produces the Golden Globes telecast) have announced the presenters of the 2020 Golden Globe Awards ceremony, which takes place January 5 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills California. NBC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern Time/5 p.m. Pacific Time.

Here are the presenters in alphabetical order:

  • Tim Allen
  • Jennifer Aniston*
  • Christian Bale*
  • Antonio Banderas*
  • Jason Bateman
  • Annette Bening*
  • Cate Blanchett*
  • Matt Bomer
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Glenn Close
  • Daniel Craig*
  • Ted Danson
  • Ana de Armas*
  • Leonardo DiCaprio*
  • Ansel Elgort
  • Chris Evans
  • Dakota Fanning
  • Will Ferrell
  • Lauren Graham
  • Tiffany Haddish
  • Kit Harington*
  • Salma Hayek
  • Scarlett Johansson*
  • Elton John*
  • Nick Jonas
  • Harvey Keitel
  • Zoe Kravitz
  • Jennifer Lopez*
  • Rami Malek*
  • Kate McKinnon
  • Helen Mirren
  • Jason Momoa
  • Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Amy Poehler
  • Brad Pitt*
  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph
  • Margot Robbie*
  • Paul Rudd*
  • Wesley Snipes
  • Octavia Spencer
  • Bernie Taupin*
  • Charlize Theron*
  • Sofia Vergara
  • Kerry Washington
  • Naomi Watts
  • Rachel Weisz
  • Reese Witherspoon*

*2020 Golden Globe Awards nominee

Ricky Gervais is hosting the show. Tom Hanks will be receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement, while Ellen DeGeneres will be getting the Carol Burnett Award, which is given to people who have excelled in comedy. The Carol Burnett Award debuted at the Golden Globes in 2019, and Burnett was the first recipient of the prize. Dylan and Paris Brosnan (sons of Pierce Brosnan) will serve as the 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors.

Click here for a complete list of nominations for the 2020 Golden Globe Awards.

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