'The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature': Film Review

Still preferable to singing chipmunks.

Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl and Maya Rudolph are joined by Jackie Chan for another chaotic animated romp in the park.

“You mean, there was actually a previous Nut Job?”

In response to the comment that often greets mention of The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, indeed there was one.

An animated adventure featuring a frantic menagerie of urban park dwellers, the feature boasted little that separated it from the anthropomorphic pack save for a scene-stealing Maya Rudolph as an eager-to-please pug and the striking Damon Runyon-inspired, throwback art direction. Released during a decidedly uncrowded January weekend in 2014, the film ended up scurrying off with a surprising $25.7 million domestic opening on the way to a worldwide take of $120.9 million.

Content to recycle everything that worked — and didn’t — the first time around, the new U.S.-Canada-South Korea co-production will likely have a tougher time scraping together much at the box office, targeting a back-to-school demo that has already been assailed by sputtering cars, millions of minions and crass emojis.

Having been living the life of Riley in an abandoned nut shop, Surly, a purple squirrel voiced by Will Arnett, and his four-legged cohorts must form a united front when their beloved Liberty Park is slated to be razed by Oakton’s corrupt Mayor Muldoon (Bobby Moynihan) and turned into an amusement park filled with condemned rides.

Speared on by his nature-loving squirrel pal Andie (Katherine Heigl), Surly finds some unexpected assistance in the form of the mysterious Mr. Feng (Jackie Chan), who has evolved from a common street rodent into a “weapon of mouse destruction.”

While that let’s-band-together-and-save-the-park setup clearly isn’t the freshest acorn on the tree, director and co-writer Cal Brunker (2013’s Escape From Planet Earth) at least manages to keep all the ensuing chaos at a reasonably brisk clip. Drawing similarly energetic performances from his voice cast is another matter — and once again Arnett, Heigl and company simply don’t come off as dimensionally warm and engaging as required.

The lone exception is once again Rudolph, who, as the pop-eyed Precious, handily slobbers on all the scenery, with a Bowery Boys inflection that sounds a bit like she’s channeling Rosie O’Donnell circa A League of Their Own.

This time around she meets her romantic match in the form of Frankie (Bobby Cannavale), a French Bulldog belonging to the mayor’s delinquent daughter, and the two embark on a courtship marked by a squirmingly audacious regurgitation sequence that emerges as the film’s dubious high point.

Too bad the rest of it feels so similarly churned out.

Production companies: Redrover, ToonBox Entertainment, Gulfstream Pictures, Shanghai Hoongman
Distributor: Open Road Films
Cast: Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph, Katherine Heigl, Jackie Chan, Isabela Moner, Bobby Cannavale, Bobby Moynihan, Peter Stormare, Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham
Director: Cal Brunker
Screenwriters: Scott Bindley, Cal Brunker, Bob Barlen
Producers: Harry Linden, Jongsoo Kim, Youngki Lee, Li Li Ma, Jonghan Kim, Bob Barlen
Executive producers: Daniel Woo, Mike Karz, William Bindley, Hoejin Ha, Hong Kim, Gui Ping Zhang, Zhao Lan Wu, Hyungkon Kim
Editor: Paul Hunter
Music: Heitor Pereira
Casting director: Linda Lamontagne

Rated PG, 84 minutes