Minions: The Rise Of Gru delivers 'breathless entertainment' but also 'a nagging sense of familiarity'

Minions: The Rise Of Gru: Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and Minion Otto
Minions: The Rise Of Gru: Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and Minion Otto

MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU (U, 88 mins) Animation/Comedy/Adventure. Featuring the voices of Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Taraji P Henson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Lucy Lawless, Danny Trejo, Michelle Yeoh, Julie Andrews, Russell Brand, Pierre Coffin. Directors: Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, Jonathan del Val.

Released: July 1

ABOUT 30 minutes into Kyle Balda's outlandish computer-animated caper co-directed by Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val, I experienced an unsettling head rush of déjà vu, convinced I had already seen these madcap misadventures of adolescent supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his goggle-eyed yellow hench-creatures.

A nagging sense of familiarity pervades every brightly coloured frame of Minions: The Rise Of Gru, the fifth instalment of the Despicable Me saga, which currently wears the crown of the highest-grossing animated franchise of all time.

Trading heavily on the pratfalls and naive tomfoolery of the titular sidekicks, Balda's picture will add handsomely to the coffers but lacks dramatic necessity.

Scriptwriters Brian Lynch and Matthew Fogel hastily sketch an origin story for gadget guru Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) around a bruising battle between Gru and larcenous rivals, who opine that "evil is for adults, not for tubby little punks who should be at school".

Broad physical humour, including one minion's close encounter with the power flush of an airplane toilet, elicits gurgles of glee from younger audience members.

1970s pop culture references are aimed at parents, who might otherwise sneak micro naps between overblown action sequences, building to a final showdown that reduces several blocks of San Francisco to smouldering digital rubble.

The year is 1976 and Gru has reached the criminally prodigious age of 11-and-three quarters.

While the minions continue haphazard construction of an underground lair, Gru laments the death of his idol, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), leader of a diabolical dream team christened the Vicious 6.

Surviving members Belle Bottom (Taraji P Henson), Jean Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Nun-chuck (Lucy Lawless), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) and Stronghold (Danny Trejo) interview for a replacement but cruelly dismiss Gru.

In retaliation for the ageist snub, the resourceful tyke steals an ancient amulet from the Vicious 6 that can harness the power of the 12 creatures of the Chinese zodiac.

Belle Bottom and her enraged compatriots give chase and minions Bob, Kevin and Stuart take a hasty lesson in self-defence from a retired kung-fu master turned acupuncturist (Michelle Yeoh).

Minions: The Rise Of Gru delivers the breathless entertainment and escapism we have come to expect with casual ease.

Visuals are slick and efficient, which is an apt summation of everything Balda and his team confidently marshal on screen.

Carell's subdued vocal performance is disappointing, while a flimsy plot springs a leak well before rapscallion Gru detonates a stink bomb in a packed cinema screening of Jaws.

Spielberg's great white shark lost its bite after four films: the Despicable Me saga has gone one better but should heed the blood in the water.