Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"DESPICABLE ME 2"
Following the success of its 2010 predecessor, this charming sequel begins with Gru (Steve Carell), now a suburban dad caring for his feisty, adopted orphan girls: Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), the oldest, who's becoming interested in boys, a complication Gru can't quite deal with.
Having left malevolent moon-theft behind, Gru needs a new profession. Jelly and jam making? Probably not. Just in time, he's back into criminality when super-secretive Anti-Villain League's Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan) recruits him to catch a dastardly mastermind who has stolen a secret serum that turns innocent critters, like bunnies and minions, into killing machines.
Determined to catch the culprit before major mutating damage occurs, Gru goes undercover in a shopping mall, teaming up with spunky, lipstick taser-wielding AVL Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), who has followed his criminal career over the years. There are numerous suspects, including Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), a cook in the Mexican restaurant who resembles a former nemesis believed to be dead. Once again, the mischievous, gibberish-chattering, goggle-eyed, yellow-skinned Minions steal the show, obviously preparing for their own spin-off movie.
Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio's wacky, warm-hearted script is directed by co-creators Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, who dub the minions' voices. Superb casting is what makes it all tick. Using an exaggerated Eastern European accent, Carell (TV's "The Office," "Date Night") captures Gru's every nuance. Too bad Russell Brand's mad scientist Dr. Nefariom has less to do this time around. And while Javier Bardem and Al Pacino were considered for El Macho -- Pacino even recorded the part -- Bratt is convincing.
Illumination Mac Guff's 3D animation is amusing. Mac Guff is a French visual effects company, based in Paris and Los Angeles; its name stems from the term MacGuffin, which was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Despicable Me 2" is a sweet 'n' sticky, yet solid 7. And keep your 3D glasses on through the credits to get the most from the minions.
"WHITE HOUSE DOWN"
It's deja vu all over again in this second film of the season in which terrorists invade the White House, leaving an aspiring Secret Service agent to save the day. The concept is familiar from "Olympus Has Fallen," but this time the characters at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are far more fully developed and interesting. There's humor and heart.
Ex-Marine-turned-Capitol policeman John Cale (Channing Tatum) has been turned down for his dream job of serving on the president's Secret Service detail. But on a White House tour with his precocious, preteen daughter Emily (Joey King), armed militants take over, so it's up to underestimated Officer Cale save President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), Emily and the country.
What makes this different is the way screenwriter James Vanderbilt ("The Amazing Spider Man," "Zodiac") and director Roland Emmerich cultivate the relationship between Cale and Sawyer. Foxx ("Django Unchained") obviously models his POTUS on the current incumbent, giving Tatum ("G.I. Joe") most of the derring-do. Plus, there are memorable supporting turns from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke and James Woods.
In the 17 years since Roland Emmerich blew up the White House in "Independence Day," much has changed -- like no more filming in Washington, D.C. Instead, the iconic, 222-year-old executive mansion, where the president lives and works, was meticulously re-created in Montreal by production designer Kirk Petruccelli ("The Incredible Hulk," "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"), including its many secret tunnels and the bulletproof presidential limo.
On a deeper psychological level, after 9/11, depicting graphic destruction of our treasured national monuments exploits Americans' terrorism paranoia and tweaks a growing suspicion of defense contractors and the military/industrial complex. But it's these CGI scenes of spectacular demolition that sell action-adventures overseas.
Comparisons between Tatum and Bruce Willis' wisecracking "Die Hard" character are obvious; they share the same first name and both wear dirty, sleeveless T-shirts.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "White House Down" is an implausible but action-packed, escapist 8. Emmerich's next is "Independence Day 2," scheduled to open July 3.
"THE BLING RING"
If ever a movie was designed to induce parental anxiety, this is it -- as southern California teenagers go on an intoxicating, guilt-free burglary spree in the Hollywood Hills, excitedly chirping, "Let's go shopping!" Dazzled by the luxurious excess they see on television and in magazines, the group is headed by ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang), who befriends shy, socially awkward Indian Hills High School newcomer Mark (Israel Broussard), along with nervy Chloe (Claire Julien) and Nicki (Emma Watson), her younger sister Emily (Georgia Rock) and their "adopted" sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga). The latter three are home-schooled by their ditsy mom (Leslie Mann), the curriculum from the self-help best-seller "The Secret."
After consulting stalker websites, they target the palatial and surprisingly unprotected homes of indulgent fashionistas Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson, Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom, among others. Apparently, none of these high-profile celebrities ever installed a burglar alarm, and Hilton conveniently left her house key under the front-door mat. The teen intruders' haute-couture haul in glittery designer loot was said to exceed $3 million.
Based on a real-life crime spree, which sparked the 2010 Vanity Fair article "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" by Nancy Jo Sales, the flimsy, atmospheric script by director Sofia Coppola should be a cautionary caper, a societal fable about materialism and amorality. Problem is: as evidenced by "Marie Antoinette," "Lost in Translation" and "Somewhere," Coppola seems not only blatantly besotted with the idle rich but also enticed and titillated by their vacuous extravagance. As a result, there's too little about the consequences of inept parenting and cocaine addiction.
Nevertheless, Coppola elicits clueless, yet convincing performances from her tweeting, texting cast, particularly Broussard, prancing in fuchsia stilettos, and Watson, shedding her "Harry Potter" Hermione persona. Not surprisingly, publicity-hungry hotel heiress Hilton allowed Coppola to film her lavishly decorated home and her chocked-full, candy-box closet.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Bling Ring" is a shallow yet scary 6, superficially documenting a banal youth culture of self-surveillance.