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It Gru on 'Me'; talking Joan Rivers

Published July 28. 2010 05:00PM

"Despicable Me" is an enjoyable 3-D movie that should be seen in 3-D.

The animation feature touts its eye-popping effects and indeed they are, especially in 3-D. There's a roller coaster sequence that puts you right in the seat and staring down the tracks. There's an amusement park game of chance scene where you're front and center. You'll blast off to the moon and experience what near zero gravity might be like.

Despite whiz-bang visuals, "Despicable Me" saves its best for last when evil spymaster Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, sits with the three orphans he's foster-parenting and reads to them from a book yes a book, not a Kindle. It's the movie's most surprising and emotionally-fulfilling scene.

Stay for the movie's end credits when a ladder seems to pop out of the screen, and other 3-D stunts are pulled.

"Despicable Me" is co-directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud (who give voice, of sorts, to the movie's Minions), stepping up from being animators. The screenplay is by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, who co-wrote "Horton Hears A Who" and "The Santa Clause 2," from a story by animator Sergio Pablos.

"Despicable Me" lacks compelling characters, an engrossing story, and the pop-culture comedic quips of contemporary animated features.

This would not necessarily be a drawback if "Despicable Me" had a stronger lead animated character. Gru, with an Uncle Fester ("The Addam's Family") head atop a "Nightmare Before Christmas" character's spindly legs, isn't designed for the warm, fuzzy animation of "Toy Story 3' and "Shrek Forever After."

The orphans are the more interesting animated characters. The most fun characters are Gru's Minions, which resemble plastic Lego characters. They deserve a movie or TV series of their own.

The animators broke the cardinal rule of animation with "Despicable Me": the characters' eyes are as glassy and blank as those of a porcelain doll. In animation, the eyes have it.

Carell is even more annoying in his character voice than he is with his nasal actor voice on TV's "The Office." As Gru, his voice sounds like Borat meets Peter Lorre. Other voice characterizations by Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Jason Segel Will Arnett and Julie Andrews are similarly forgettable.

That said, "Despicable Me" kind of Gru on me. The 3-D effects are, as advertised, eye-popping.

"Despicable Me," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for rude humor and mild action; Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family; Run time: 1 hour, 35 min.; Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes produced, wrote and sings several songs on the "Despicable Me" soundtrack, including the title song.

A Piece of Work: Speaking of "Despicable," don't miss "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work."

We're kidding, or course, about the "despicable" reference, but the documentary film's title does refer to the numerous plastic surgery procedures Rivers has had to her face, which gives her a bizarre appearance. And Rivers' often cruel humor makes insult comic Don Rickles sound like the Easter Bunny.

Rivers' words, opinions and acerbic wit haven't been altered. The film is subtitled "a year in the life of a semi-legend."

Film-makers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg followed Rivers schlepping from one stand-up comedy gig to the next, with stops on Donald Trump's TV show, "Celebrity Apprentice," which she won; a Comedy Central "roast" of her; and Rivers' own 75th birthday party.

"A Piece of Work" is fascinating on a number of levels, notably Joan Rivers' self-described break-through for female comedians. The film deals seriously with the suicide of her husband, Edgar, following her firing from her Fox Network late-night talk show; her ups and downs with her daughter, Melissa; and that plastic surgery.

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is frequently as hilarious as the comedienne herself. It's also a behind-the-scenes look at the world of stand-up comedy; a serious consideration of the issues of aging, especially for women; the challenges of maintaining a successful show business career; and just how hard Joan Rivers works to entertain us and at being Joan Rivers.

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is about the work. And that's what Joan Rivers is all about.

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian) for language and sexual humor; Genre: Documentary; Run time: 1 hr., 24 min.; Distributed by IFC Films.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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