Like yet another cold, sugary soft drink dispensed from a vending machine, the animated sequel “Despicable Me 3” is only satisfying in direct proportion to one’s thirst.
If you are someone for whom a wait of two to three years between installments of this popular cartoon franchise – which includes the 2015 spinoff “Minions” – is way too long, then this latest chapter in the saga of supervillain-turned-crimefighter Gru (voice of Steve Carell) and his suppository-shaped yellow henchmen will fill that aching void, even as it stokes the hunger for “Minions 2” (due out in 2020).
For others, “Despicable Me 3” is just another swig from the same can of calculated comedy.
Despite the addition of an interesting new character, Gru’s long-lost twin brother, Dru (Carell), the ingredients are familiar. Gru, now married to Lucy (Kristen Wiig), the woman who converted him from a life of crime in the last “Despicable,” is now an upstanding member of the Anti-Villain League – that is, until he and Lucy fail to apprehend the film’s new bad guy: a washed-up former child actor named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), who has made off with a giant pink diamond.
The opening sequence, in which Balthazar is revealed to be fixated on becoming the evil character he played on TV as a child, is filled with mildly amusing spy gadgetry and jokes designed to appeal to Mom and Dad (here being references to the 1980s, the decade in which the shoulder-pad-wearing, mullet-crowned Balthazar is mired). Much of the comedy consists of slapstick in which Gru seems to hurt himself, only to shout, “I’m OK!”
The screenplay (by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, both of whom worked on the previous two “Despicable” movies) is as formulaic – and nutrition-free – as Coke Classic.
After losing their jobs and learning of the lost sibling, Gru and Lucy head off to Dru’s compound in Freedonia (a nod to the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” for Grandma and Grandpa), where Dru invites his brother to teach him how to become a villain. Spotting an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the AVL and his wannabe-thief brother, Gru agrees to help Dru steal the diamond back from Balthazar.
Meanwhile, Lucy wrestles with the emotional perils of becoming a stepmother to Gru’s three adopted daughters, the youngest of whom, Agnes (Nev Scharrel), gets her own subplot involving the continuation of an obsession with unicorns. For reasons not worth getting into, Gru’s Minions somehow wind up in prison, providing a cutesy narrative that is virtually its own short film, having nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
But people do love them some Minions. More power to you.
Nothing is ever terribly much at stake here – including originality – in a summer movie that feels as anodyne and fungible as snack food, but which will probably be recognized as such only by people old enough to know what those words mean. “Despicable Me 3” disappoints, if only mildly, not because it’s bad, but because it only aspires to be good enough.