"After all, that is why we came to this cheese infested metropolis."
Unlike most people who were willing to dismiss 2011's The Smurfs sight unseen, I actually didn't mind the film all that much. As a parent, believe me when I tell you that I've been dragged to much, much worse films than that one. Don't get me wrong, it's got its issues, but one thing it had going for it was an unexpectedly dedicated live action cast, headed by a go-for-broke performance from Hank Azaria as Gargamel. It goes without saying that I would similarly have to sit through the sequel, so while I was guarded, I didn't enter the theater with the appropriate amount of dread required to enjoy a film like this. That's my diplomatic way of saying that the paper thin premise on which they've chosen to hang a franchise has started to tear apart at the seams.
Picking up some four years after the events of the first film, The Smurfs 2 opens with Smurfette (Katy Perry, ugh) facing an identity crisis. Because she was created by Gargamel (Azaria), she feels that she's never been a true blue Smurf (see what I did there? Clever, right?) She becomes completely despondent when she thinks the other Smurfs have forgotten her birthday, and her world is thrown into a tailspin when she is abducted by a grey complexioned "Naughty" by the name of Vexy (Christina Ricci).
Vexy, along with the significantly dumber Hackus (JB Smoove) are creations of Gargamel's that he is hoping to turn into real Smurfs with the help of the secret formula used to turn Smurfette into one. Once he's done that, he can use their essence to take over the world. Confused yet? Remember, this film is aimed at the under-10 set. Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) sets in motion a rescue plan to travel to the human world, along with three other arbitrarily chosen Smurfs, and prove to Smurfette that she's a real Smurf.
Papa and the others once again enlist the help of Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) & Grace (Jayma Mays) Winslow, who are soldiering through city life and raising their young son Blue (Jacob Tremblay). Patrick is having a paternal crisis of his own when his overbearing step-father Victor (Brendan Gleeson) keeps popping into his life and wreaking havoc. Will Papa Smurf and Patrick once again be able to help one another through a good old fashioned heart-to-heart? Will Smurfette realize that she is good after all? Will Gargamel's plan for world domination meet with a comically ridiculous end? Well, you're not getting any spoilers out of me!
Am I being a tad harsh on The Smurfs 2? Probably, but it's got an agenda in its story line, and that would, at least superficially, elevate it above the average mindless child-focused entertainment. The message behind the film is actually quite sweet and pertinent to a lot of kids in this day and age, namely that it's not about where you come from or whether or not the person raising you is your birth parent, it's all about how you choose to look at the world that defines you as a person. At a time when many children are facing divorced, adoptive or surrogate parents, it's a theme that will apply to many of the children in the audience, and it's one that's a tad headier than the average film featuring pint-sized blue dwarfs could be expected to convey.
The ultimate problem, however, is that the message is buried in a film that derives endless amusement from bodily functions and Smurf-based puns (Smurfholm Syndrome? Really?) I can't help but admire any film trying to teach kids a lesson such as the one this film has in mind, but to constantly undercut it with pratfalls and eye-rolling gags ultimately diminishes that message into nothingness. The film also really piles on the non-Smurf related subplots to the point where many kids in the audience will be wondering what the Smurfs are even up to as the film sometimes goes for ten minute stretches with no sight of the little fellas.
In fact, I likely wouldn't be so bothered by the toilet humor, which I've honestly come to expect at this point, if the film weren't so interminably long. At 105 minutes, it's at least fifteen minutes too long, and could likely have stood to lose closer to twenty. In typical sequel style, the film gets bogged down in trying to give all of the characters something to do, and ends up suffering from nearly fatal bloat. While I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't try to shoehorn in as many Smurfs as possible this time, sticking once again to the small band of stowaways, it's really a backhanded compliment since the ones that aren't Papa or Smurfette are nothing more than plot devices anyway.
As with the first film, the biggest asset that The Smurfs 2 has going for it is Hank Azaria. He goes all out here, holding nothing back, and it pays off handsomely. His dedication to the character of Gargamel is admirable in the way that more serious actors in more serious films often get awards recognition for. I don't want to draw a straight line between his performance here and the work of someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, but I wouldn't be opposed to a squiggly line connecting those dots. It's that level of commitment, however, and he's the only reason I'll likely see the inevitable third film.
When the filmmakers pulled the stunt casting of Katy Perry out of their bag two years ago, they probably didn't know she was going to be the focus of the sequel and would have been wiser to cast an actual actress in the role. The less said about her work here, the better. Winters is expectedly good as Papa, in what is sadly his last role, and JB Smoove manages to create a character that is equal parts fun and revolting that I'm sure most kids will get a big kick out of. The rest of the live-action cast is good as well, as to be expected from three solid actors like Harris, Mays & Gleeson.
The film most assuredly falls victim to the too many cooks in the kitchen syndrome that can't help but come from a script credited to five people (and likely had many more hands in it than that). I hate to harp on how crucial a good script is for a film like this, but it seems like there was a kernel of a truly good idea in there somewhere until they brought someone in to punch it up with fart jokes.
I want so badly to think that the next film will be better, as the film's ending sets it up to take place in The Smurfs' home world rather than the human world (the globe trotting in this film was a tad ridiculous). However, I just don't have enough faith in director Raja Gosnell, and his coterie of writers dedicated to nothing more than jokes that will appeal to the lowest common denominator, to provide a film that will rise to the level of its most dedicated actors. Your children deserve better than this film will give them, and considering much better films like Turbo are still in theaters, I can't even recommend this as something to do on a rainy day.
GO Rating: 2/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]