“DESPICABLE ME 3” — 2½ stars — Voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews; PG (action and rude humor); in general release
“Despicable Me 3” feels like six cats fighting over the same ball of yarn. The kids will get a few laughs here and there, but a messy story and competing subplots quickly prove that the third installment of the franchise — which already includes a spinoff — just doesn’t have enough material to go around.
First we meet Balthazar Bratt (voiced by “South Park’s” Trey Parker), a former child actor turned super thief determined to take his revenge on Hollywood for killing his career. Bratt is a walking, breakdancing tribute to 1980s pop culture, clad in a purple jumpsuit with shoulder pads, bopping to a laundry list of obligatory ’80s hits and tossing around bad ’80s puns (“Son of a Betamax!” he curses) as he hams his way through his crimes.
As part of his revenge plot, Bratt tries to steal a priceless purple diamond, but his effort is foiled by Gru (Steve Carell), the sharp-nosed, bald hero who turned from a life of villainy in the first movie and met his true love, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), in the second. But even though they save the diamond — which their moon-walking nemesis manages to steal later anyway — Gru and Lucy get fired from their secret agent jobs because they weren’t able to catch Bratt.
Out of a job, Gru is tempted to return to his own life of crime, and when he resists, his yellow army of Minions abandons him for their own parallel story. Then Gru is contacted by his heretofore unknown twin brother, Dru (also Carrell), who summons him to his long-lost pig farming home in Freedonia to tempt him to return to a life of crime.
Lucy tags along to Freedonia, determined to become a mother figure to Gru’s three adopted daughters, who each have their own subplots — young Agnes (Nev Scharrel) is chasing her dream of finding a real live unicorn, 12-year-old Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) accidentally gets engaged to a goofy Freedonian boy, and Edith (Dana Gaier) keeps busy pulling pranks.
You could be forgiven for feeling confused by “Despicable Me 3’s” trailers, each of which suggest director Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda’s film is about a different subject. And after finally seeing the movie, you understand why.
All these plots and subplots cling to the diamond MacGuffin, which tries desperately to keep the story together. Gru doesn’t want to return to his life of crime, but dupes Dru into helping him steal the diamond back from Bratt, which he hopes will get his secret agent job back. The various plots ultimately converge in a dramatic showdown on Hollywood Boulevard about 20 minutes after parents will have lost interest in the movie.
By splitting its 90-minute run time into so many different threads, “Despicable Me 3” isn’t able to do more than offer a handful of funny gags that wash the franchise farther downstream. The goofy animation, gobbled Minion-speak, and various bare-bottom jokes will get laughs from the kids, but don’t add up to a satisfying movie. (Now that the Minions have already had their own movie, their presence here feels like more of an obligatory cameo.)
Guillon and Balda are ultimately trying to do service to too many characters and audiences (the transparent nod to parents raised in the ’80s quickly goes from flattering to forced). Far too focused on what’s happening onscreen while ignoring the meaning of what’s happening onscreen, “Despicable Me 3” is the kind of movie that will get laughs in the moment, but will be forgotten as soon as the next big screen spectacle arrives to take its place.
“Despicable Me 3” is rated PG for action and rude humor; running time: 90 minutes.