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The Independent Critic

Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser, Gabriel Iglesias, Stephen Lang, Jeff Dunham, Liam Neeson, Maya Rudolph, and Will Arnett
Peter Lepeniotis
Peter Lepeniotis, Daniel Woo, and Lorne Cameron
Rated PG
85 Mins.
Open Road Films

 "The Nut Job" Kicks Off the Season of Mediocrity 
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Now that Oscar nominations have actually been announced, it's time for Hollywood's annual dumping of the post-awards season exercises in cinematic mediocrity into the already dismal month of January.

Unfortunately, the kids don't get a break either.

The Nut Job, a Canadian/Korean collaboration directed by Peter Lepeniotis based upon his 2005 animated short Surly Squirrel, this 3-D caper flick is set in Autumn 1959 in the imaginary town of Oakton that is so devoted to being vintage that it borders on being downright stale. The aforementioned Surly (Will Arnett) is, indeed, a rather surly squirrel with a rebellious streak and a tendency to go it alone and who isn't particularly concerned that all the other animals in a shared city park have been struggling to gather enough nuts to survive the winter. Andie (Katherine Heigl) is a more compassionate squirrel who sees good in Surly even when no one else does, while the heroic Grayson (Brendan Fraser) seems to skate by mostly on reputation. Raccoon (Liam Neeson) serves as the park's paternal figure/dictator. When both Surly and Andie discover that a new business on the block is, in fact, a nut shop it appears that crisis has been averted if they can only find a way to pilfer the peanuts, etc. 

The problem? King (Stephen Lang) and his crew of con men have their own pilfering plans in place with the adjoining bank. Can the park be saved? Will Raccoon's agenda be discovered? Will Surly be forgiven? Will the bad guys win?

What the f*** is Psy doing here?

No, really. What the f*** is Psy doing here?

While The Nut Job isn't quite as abysmal as you might expect watching its retro-styled 90's animation trailer that somehow also weaves 3-D into the picture, the film is most certainly an awkward and uneven film that centers around a rather unlikable central character and a host of other characters that seem far more amped up than is explained by the formulaic dialogue.

The 85-minute feature film has a strong air of "been there, seen that" throughout its running time, partly because its characters at time seem like castoffs from the likes of Ice Age and Over the Hedge, both vastly superior, and partly because the film's few pop culture references are antiquated and overly familiar.

This doesn't mean that everything's a disaster. In fact, far from it. Art Director Ian Hastings instills the film with a warmth that adds a layer of emotional resonance that you don't always find in these kinds of films, while Maya Rudolph, comes completely and adorably alive as Precious, a vibrantly realized pug who makes you wish that she had been the center of attention here.

As Surly, Will Arnett certainly has his funny lines but it's hard not to wish he'd let up on the whole surliness just a wee bit. Andie, on the other hand, simply feels like perhaps we've stumbled into yet another of Katherine Heigl's humdrum rom-coms. Liam Neeson gets by as your stereotypical noirish bad guy, while Brendan Fraser adds a wee bit of a flair as Grayson. The real problem with the film's vocal work, however, is simply its inconsistency that causes the tone of the film to bounce unconvincingly all over the place.

Kids may like that, but it will drive discerning moviegoers completely mad.

But, really. What do you expect?

It's January.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic