Movie Reviews: 'Despicable Me 3,' 'Baby Driver' 'The House' and 'Transformers: The Last Knight'

  • Written by Catholic News Service
  • Published in Movies & TV
Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, appears in the animated movie "Despicable Me 3." Photo: CNS/Universal Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, appears in the animated movie "Despicable Me 3." Photo: CNS/Universal

Recently reviewed by Catholic News Service

Despicable Me 3

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Director Pierre Coffin's animated comedy "Despicable Me 3" (Universal) -- the second direct follow-up to the 2010 original -- turns out to be something of a disappointment, falling short when compared to its predecessors.

There is good news about the film, though, because its weak central plot is offset not only by amusing side stories but by strong values as well.

This time out, Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the once slightly wicked villain who turned thoroughgoing good guy over the course of the first two films, is up against an unlikely opponent. Balthazar Bratt -- an ex-child actor whose 1980s TV show, "Evil Bratt," was abruptly canceled when his voice began cracking and he developed acne -- is out to wreak delayed vengeance by destroying Hollywood.

As Gru battles to thwart this plan, he also discovers that he has a brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell) that his unnamed mother (voice of Julie Andrews) never told him about. Predictably, the siblings quickly bond, though Dru tries to convince Gru to return to the dark side, citing their father's career as a criminal as precedent for a family tradition.

Along with the newfound brothers' mutual affection, clan closeness is also celebrated through scenes of Gru's interaction with his supportive wife and crime-fighting partner, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and their shared nurturing of their trio of adopted daughters, Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voice of Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

Jokes riffing on Reagan-era fads and fashions -- shoulder pads and the like -- generally fall flat. But Agnes' determination to find and take in a live unicorn -- and Gru's reluctance to tell her the truth about her favorite creatures -- are endearing. So too is her bedtime prayer on the subject.

Additionally, the pixilated minions (voiced by director Pierre Coffin) who once carried out Gru's bidding -- and who featured in their own 2015 film -- are on hand to get things back on track.

The references to puberty involved in Bratt's show biz downfall might provoke some uncomfortable questions from little kids. Beyond that, Gru winds up in an embarrassing state of undress at one point and there's some bathroom and body-parts humor.

Since there's also some danger portrayed along the way, parents of the smallest, most easily scared tykes may not find this a good cinematic choice. For everyone else, it makes acceptable if not outstanding summer entertainment.

The film contains characters in peril, brief partial nudity played for laughs, mild scatological and anatomical humor and a couple of vaguely crass slang terms.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Baby Driver movie still
Ansel Elgort and Lily James star in a scene from the movie "Baby Driver." Photo: CNS/Sony

Baby Driver

By John Mulderig Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Stylish and energetic, the high-octane crime drama "Baby Driver" (TriStar) blends pop music, dizzying car chases and some dark humor to impressive effect.

While the film's basic values are sound, however, late plot developments involve a quantity of bloodletting that will seem excessive to many moviegoers.

Ansel Elgort plays the title character, who prefers the moniker Baby to his real name. An otherwise decent young man, Baby is being forced to serve as the getaway driver in a series of bank robberies to pay off a debt he incurred to callous mobster Doc (Kevin Spacey).

This brings him into contact and collaboration with a series of lowlifes, including Wall Street executive-turned-thief Buddy (Jon Hamm), Buddy's moll Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and aptly nicknamed psychopath Bats (Jamie Foxx). The better part of Baby's nature, meanwhile, is expressed in the care he gives his deaf and ailing foster father, Joe (CJ Jones), and in his romance with sprightly diner waitress Debora (Lily James).

Writer-director Edgar Wright earns his paycheck with a production carefully choreographed down to the last gesture, and there's an amiable and appealing spirit to most of the proceedings. Elgort invites strong sympathy for the orphaned, often silent Baby.

While it can be argued that Wright tries to have it both ways, ethically speaking, a reckoning does eventually arrive, and crime is ultimately punished. Baby and Debora's relationship, moreover, remains chaste, with nothing more than kisses being exchanged.

Yet, as things begin to wind up, Wright aims for shock value by having some of his bad guys meet spectacular, brutal deaths. This considerably circumscribes the audience for which "Baby Driver" can be endorsed. Forewarned grownups, however, may enjoy taking it for a spin.

The film contains momentary but intense gory violence along with much gunplay, several uses of profanity and frequent rough and crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

The House movie still
Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and Jason Mantzoukas star in a scene from the movie "The House." Photo: CNS/Warner Bros.

The House

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Had "The House" (Warner Bros.) been made as a taut, dark comedy about the price of greed, it might have some merit. Instead, director Andrew Jay Cohen, who co-wrote the screenplay with Brendan O'Brien, has produced a sloppy, illogical, cringe-inducing time-waster.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as Scott and Kate Johansen are demonstrably stupid about the basics of financial security. But they are aware they're in over their heads with debt. "We played by the rules and this is where it got us," Scott complains bitterly.

Everyone's happy when daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is accepted at Bucknell University. But they were counting on a free-ride scholarship offered by their town, and the town council decides to build an elaborate community pool instead.

The couple's solution is to go into partnership with their friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to open a gambling den in his home. Frank's trying to avoid foreclosure and get back with his wife, Raina (Michaela Watkins), who has been asking for a divorce.

Since the gambling house always wins, they figure that this is a foolproof scheme. What they don't realize, of course, is that they're complete fools, and that all such criminal enterprises eventually face justice.

Chaos descends quickly, with Frank putting the casino into heavy debt with high-end amenities, and the jollity comes to an abrupt end when Scott, threatening an accused cheater, unintentionally chops off his finger with a hatchet.

Light on the yucks but heavy on the yuk, "The House" becomes an onerous trial of the viewer's attention span.

The film contains a lengthy gory sequence and frequent rough and crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Transformers: The Last Knight movie still
Samuel Parker, Isabela Moner, Benjamin Flores Jr., Juliocesar Chavez and Daniel Iturriaga star in a scene from the movie "Transformers: The Last Knight." Photo: CNS/Paramount

Transformers: The Last Knight

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Grown-ups who yearn to connect with their inner 11-year-old boy are given a two-and-a-half-hour window of opportunity to do so in "Transformers: The Last Knight" (Paramount). 

As for the literal preteens who might somehow enjoy this long, loud and dumb production, however, a steady stream of swearing and some muddled supernatural motifs make it inappropriate for them.

The fifth franchise entry for a series based on a line of Hasbro toys, and dating back to 2007's "Transformers," director Michael Bay's ponderous sci-fi action flick, like its immediate predecessor, centers on small-time inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg).

Unlike most humans, Cade distinguishes between the good shape-shifting robots of the title, represented most prominently by Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), and their evil counterparts. For those keeping score, the former group are called Autobots, the latter Decepticons.

This time out, Cade is scrambling to save Earth from being destroyed in a collision with the automatons' home planet, Cybertron. It seems that Quintessa (Gemma Chan), the evil sorceress who created the Transformers, has a scheme to revive their dying orb by desolating ours. And she manages to coerce Optimus into switching sides and abetting her based on the rather unanswerable argument that she is his "god."

Along with that little nonscriptural nugget, the sinkhole of a plot drags in prehistory, via a set of Dinobots allied with the Autobots, King Arthur (Liam Garrigan), the biblical apocalypse and Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock), an English professor in present-day Oxford who becomes Cade's antipathy-at-first-sight love interest. Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), a loopy historian, explains all these connections in detail but unconvincingly.

As boredom sets in, viewers may take to counting the number of times Cullen pompously intones "I am Optimus Prime ..." Once is too often.

The film contains occult themes, much harsh but mostly bloodless combat violence, at least one use of profanity, a few milder oaths and much crude and crass language.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.