All of the hastily sketched characters in Peter Lepeniotis’ 1950s-set computer-animated adventure go nuts at some point during the poorly paced proceedings.
A money-grabbing ex-con goes gaga at the sight of rats, a pet pug is driven barking mad by her owner’s repeated use of a silver dog whistle, a girl scout whoops with maniacal glee as a runaway food cart careens into oncoming traffic, and an army of woodland critters loosen their tenuous grasp on civility when they stumble upon a horde of cashews, pistachios, macadamias and walnuts.
Protagonists of the two-legged and four-legged persuasions in The Nut Job might be bright-eyed and - in the case of the squirrels - bushy-tailed but most of Lepeniotis and co-writer Lorne Cameron’s script feels tired.
The narrative lacks fluidity, most of the animals don’t exist beyond a single personality trait and there’s a palpable absence of jeopardy during a centrepiece bank heist.
References to a certain foodstuff are sprinkled liberally throughout the dialogue - “We found it: the Lost City of Nutlantis!” - so any parents who wake suddenly from a sneaky power-nap in the dark are soon reminded where they are.
Raccoon (voiced by Liam Neeson) and his red bird sidekick Cardinal preside over the animal denizens of Liberty Park in the sprawling metropolis of Oakton City.
Winter is fast approaching, so every groundhog, squirrel, mouse and mole gathers supplies to add to the food store in the trunk of the great oak.
Everyone except for mischievous squirrel Surly (Will Arnett), who has always ploughed a lone furrow.
“I’m independent, which means ‘looking out for number one’,” Surly reminds fellow squirrels Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Grayson (Brendan Fraser).
When a raid on a food cart goes disastrously wrong, Surly is banished to the city by the other animals.
The ravenous rodent stumbles upon a store selling nuts and plots a daring heist with trusty rat pal, Buddy (Rob Tinkler).
Little does Surly know that the new owner of the store, King (Stephen Lang), is the leader of a gang of robbers, who intend to tunnel from the shop’s basement to First Oakton Bank and plunder the vault.
The Nut Job orchestrates some pleasing slapstick and visuals are colourful, including a couple of sprightly chases, but Lepeniotis’ film doesn’t justify a release on the big screen rather than a debut on home formats.
Vocal performances raise a smile, but little more, and the squirrelly love triangle involving Surly, Andie and Grayson is clumsily contrived.
Neeson uses his trademark growl to lend an air of menace to the dictatorial raccoon, who believes, “animals are controlled by the amount of food they have”.
Pickings are certainly slim here..