Surly (Will Arnett) is a squirrel with dreams of a full belly. Together with his rat pal Buddy, he decides to rob a nut cart. Raccoon (Liam Neeson), the head of the wildlife community in the park is not best pleased when the heist goes wrong and Surly is exiled. It is not long before Surly finds a bigger target, and learns some home truths about himself, Raccoon and the animals he has left behind.
Directed by Peter Lepeniotis and based on his short film Surly the Squirrel, The Nut Job is a film that has a great voice cast, but centres on a character who will not get audiences on his side.
Will Arnett seems to have rotten luck when you think about it; Arrested Development ended too soon – and the fourth season was a disappointment – Running Wilde was cancelled – again, too soon – and his smaller comedies never seem to make much of an impact. It’s a good job he has The Lego Movie under his belt already this year, because truth be told, The Nut Job is not going to win Arnett any fans. Surly the squirrel is meant to be an anti-hero, but ends up being more a jerk than anything else. Arnett’s voice work is good, but the script hampers him. Liam Neeson plays a character with a dark agenda – shocker – and has a companion who looks awfully like an Angry Bird (capital letters intentional). Brendan Fraser, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph and Jeff Dunham suffer from having very little to do, but still, they do what they can.
The real trouble here is the script. Basing the film on a short may have seemed like a good idea, but Surly is not a character that we can root for, and we certainly don’t want him to succeed. In fact, the same goes for all the characters, who seem to spend much of their time double crossing each other; so much so that it is often hard to keep track of who is friends with who, and why. As well as this, there is a completely unnecessary storyline involving humans, which just adds to the unlikeable characters, and the confusion.
Peter Lepeniotis directs capably, but never allows the characters to grow on the audience, so while the film is filled with action, slapstick and shouty characters, it turns into a fast paced, confused mess. The animation is perfectly fine, but the use of 3D is unwarranted, as is the liberal use of Psy’s Gangnam Style, a year too late.
The Nut Job may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but Arnett fails to charm, Neeson plays a character we have seen him play before, the story is a mess and the animation uninspiring. A shame. There is a sequel planned for 2015, but at least we have a second Lego Movie on the cards, and with it, the hope that Arnett will return as Batman.