“Despicable Me 3:” harmless, unremarkable family fun

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The nefarious Gru (Steve Carell) and his minions return for another unwarranted sequel in “Despicable Me 3.” This time, Gru discovers his long-lost twin brother, Dru (also played by Carell), whose luscious mane of blond hair more than makes up for our lovable antihero’s baldness. But “Despicable Me 3” doesn’t rediscover the heart and magic of the first film, instead serving up a platter of serviceable fun for the family.

“Despicable Me 3” begins with Gru and his wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), getting fired from the Anti-Villain League. The reason: They failed to catch Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), a former child actor turned baddie who wants to destroy Hollywood for cancelling his TV show in the 80s.

The event sparks an existential crisis within Gru. He wants to return to villainy, as do the minions, but he also wants to be a good guy and father to his adopted daughters. When they realize they can’t bring their old master back to the dark side, the evil-starved minions abandon Gru to search for work elsewhere, while Gru and his family travel to Freedonia and stay at Dru’s impressive mansion.

Dru reveals that he and Gru hail from a long line of super villains, and he wishes to team up with his brother. There’s only one catch: Dru is terrible at being the bad guy. While Gru plotted to steal the moon in the first movie, Dru can’t even steer a car. Gru hesitates to relapse, but when he realizes he can one-up Bratt and get his and Lucy’s jobs back, he unites with the incompetent Dru, for better or worse.

Gru and Dru’s delightful relationship serves as the backbone of the movie. Unfortunately, the film’s sweet familial themes are underplayed since the storyline often drifts off to focus on Lucy’s first forays into motherhood, Agnes’ (Nev Scharrel) attempt to catch a unicorn and the minions’ stint in prison. Lucy’s journey is unsurprising and rote, while Agnes’ quest serves little purpose for the narrative. The only good subplot belongs to the minions, who become the devilish masters of heavier, sturdier inmates. “Despicable Me 3” once again proves these bite-sized, banana-obsessed critters are funniest when the film occasionally wanders into their antics, rather than when it follows them from start to finish.

The standout character of the cast is Bratt. South Parker co-creator Parker brings his instantly recognizable voice to a uniquely annoying antagonist who hits all the right notes. Bratt is a pathetic has-been with a precious mullet marred by a gleaming bald spot. Whenever he’s onscreen, he lights up the picture with his rough-around-the-edges presence. Gru is missing some of Bratt’s grit, a trait that made him likable in the first place.

There are some entertaining set pieces, including a battle between Bratt’s giant robot and Gru’s family. The colorful, imaginative parts of “Despicable Me 3” work well, but it’s a shame the same care was not extended to the plotline.  

Without the novelty of the original film’s charms, “Despicable Me 3” is just passable. It’s an unremarkable movie geared to appeal to wide audiences without being special in its own way. There are pleasing moments of comedy; youngsters will enjoy the slapstick, and some of the raunchier stuff will land with parents, but this franchise has been played out since its second outing. If this series drags on, “Despicable Me” might soon live up to its title.

“Despicable Me 3”

Running Time: 90 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

Score: 3 / 5 stars