Full disclosure: I am a single, childless male in his 30s. I know that The Smurfs 2 is not a film made with me in mind. These films become harder to critique. If a film seems to be working for the kids in the audience, you don’t want to just say outright that the movie stinks or else you’ll come off like a jerk. So in a movie as terrible as this sequel to the inexplicably popular original, you almost have to “go to the tape” as it were once your mind checks out after the billionth unfunny pun or pratfall to see if the core demographic seems to care. It’s necessary to take the edge off or you will just sound like a bloated gasbag.
What I saw were numerous kids pulling out their portable gaming devices to play things that looked far more interesting, others carrying on entire conversations with their siblings and parents, a kid trying to figure out the dynamics of a reclining chair, and two that just flat out fell asleep. I think it’s safe to say that while a few of the less discerning kids in the audience probably enjoyed elements of it, nothing held the interest of those who simply decided to do other things in the presence of the film. And it’s not like the parents would stop them for their lack of attention. The morning screening was free and as long as the kids were just doing something and not bugging them, the parents seemed happy.
A movie like Smurfs 2 exists for only four reasons (in order of importance):
1. Sell merchandise
3. Steady employment for all involved.
4. Be a bland enough babysitter so that when the film arrives on DVD parents will buy it in hopes of plunking their kid down in front of it for 90 minutes of peace and quiet.
That’s it. Things like story, jokes, performances, or things like that which other animated movies attempt don’t apply to The Smurfs juggernaut. It’s a brand with a specific, light and fluffy image and as long as it’s bright and flashy it doesn’t matter than nothing makes a lick of sense on even a fantastical level. It’s not a film the whole family can enjoy. It’s a film only the really young SHOULD enjoy, but not very many at the morning screening seemed all that excited to be there regardless of age. That’s the problem.
The evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria) has resurfaced in Paris as a superstar magician using the magical Smurf essence he pilfered in the first movie to sustain his career. He wants to kidnap his former creation Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) and turn her evil once again in hopes of turning his two most recent creations – grey looking Smurf-like creatures called Naughties, voiced by Christina Ricci and JB Smoove – into blue Smurfs to rob them of their magical lifeblood and eventually harness enough to take over the world. Smurfette gets kidnapped by the little evil ones on her birthday and eventually starts to give in because she thinks everyone forgot about her.
Papa (the last role for the late, great Jonathan Winters), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), Vanity (John Oliver), and Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez) all head back to the human world to ask their old friend Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) for help. Patrick agrees while having to juggle his own new family and the resurfacing of his boorish, bumbling stepfather (Brendan Gleeson) who he wishes would go away more than he did the Smurfs in the first film.
The plot, courtesy of an unconscionably large team of five credited writers, is needlessly convoluted and nonsensical because it’s not made by people thinking the audience will remotely care what happens. There are brief flashes of life when the film talks about what it’s like to have a step-parent in your life (the relationship between Harris and Gleeson and Papa and Smurfette are basically the same), but that’s really the only interesting thing going on aside from the pretty decent visual effects.
Not a single joke is funny if you’re over the age of seven and the performances are across the board passable at best. The only real direction seemingly given to the actors from two-time helmer Raja Gosnell (who now makes me wish he would make another Scooby-Doo movie instead of this) is for them to just be as personable as possible. No need to go the extra mile. All of the wonder will happen in post-production, anyway. Harris still charms, Azaria still brings some energy, Gleeson seems like a good enough sport, the voice cast is interchangeable, and Jayma Mays once again has nothing of substance to do as Patrick’s wife. The cute kid playing Patrick’s kid (Jacob Tremblay) has even less to do. None of it matters while there are toys to sell.
There’s nothing to be said about the movie itself from my perspective. It’s too bland to even be something that I could be angered or annoyed by, which in a backhanded way might be even worse because then I would at least feel something towards it. But the reaction of the kids in the screening told me all that I needed to see. It kept the kids behaved, but it couldn’t keep their attention. Let’s not talk about the rudeness of pulling out a brightly coloured gaming screen and a parent not doing anything about it, but let’s ask instead why the person who pulled it out did it in the first place. There’s a level of attentiveness and concentration that those games were giving to these kids that the film wasn’t providing. Kids who would prefer to talk about anything else other than what they’re watching just aren’t stimulated enough by what’s happening in front of them.
Then again, the young aren’t picky. There was one young girl who during the film’s fireworks filled grand finale was standing up and acting like a conductor, moving her arms in tune with the soundtrack and pyrotechnics. That girl was adorable and proof that if even for a moment someone in that auditorium was willing to admit that they felt something magical. She sat two rows in front of me, and when her father asked her what she thought at the end of the film she just said “I dunno. It was kind of weird.” So I guess that’s the review you guys should probably run with if you take anything from this piece.