Review: Dark tone, puzzling plot create a smurfin' mess

Two Naughties named Vexy (voice of Christina Ricci) and Hackus (voiced by J.B. Smoove) kidnap Smurfette (voice of Katy Perry) in “Smurfs 2.”

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Two Naughties named Vexy (voice of Christina Ricci) and Hackus (voiced by J.B. Smoove) kidnap Smurfette (voice of Katy Perry) in “Smurfs 2.”

In this sequel to Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation's hybrid live action/animated family blockbuster comedy The Smurfs, the evil wizard Gargamel creates a couple of mischievous ...

Rating: PG for some rude humor and action

Length: 105 minutes

Released: July 31, 2013 Nationwide

Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara, Hank Azaria

Director: Raja Gosnell

Writer: J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn

More info and showtimes »

It’s part of a parent’s defense mechanism to walk into a “The Smurfs” sequel with low expectations.

You know there will probably be slapstick violence, a retread story and indignities for the human cast members. A Smurf will probably break wind in a bathtub. And at some point during the tired insertion of the word “smurf” as an all-purpose action verb, it will be substituted for a profanity.

But there’s a dark and gratuitously negative vibe to “The Smurfs 2” that makes it unfit even for the undiscriminating young movie-goers that made the first one a hit. Save the $20 and just take your kid in the back yard to pull the wings off flies or burn ants with a magnifying glass. There’s so much torture and suffering in this movie, it starts to feel like “Zero Dark Smurfy.”

There was a sporadic wit to the first “The Smurfs,” and lead actor Neil Patrick Harris made an honest effort playing live action foil to the animated Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Clumsy Smurf and friends. For the sequel, Harris seems aggressively disinterested, as if each scene began after he got off the phone chewing out his agent.

It’s hard to decide where to start explaining the plot. There are five writers credited for the screenplay, and it’s difficult to imagine any two were ever in the same room at the same time.

In no particular order: Smurfette is kidnapped by two horrible Smurfs called the Naughties; Gargamel plots to take over the world by sucking the life force from the Smurfs; Patrick (Harris) harshly rejects his clownish father-in-law Victor; Gargamel captures the Smurf rescue team and puts them in cages; Smurfette and the Naughties vandalize a candy store; pretty much everyone in the film brutalizes Azrael the cat.

Gone from the first film is the charm of Smurf Village, which offered a modern spin on the 1980s Hanna-Barbera animated TV show. Gone are the pleasing tributes to Peyo, who created “Les Schtroumpfs” in the 1950s. Gone is the prospect of daylight. At least 90 percent of the sequel seems to be filmed in gloomy basements, darkness and torture chambers.

There are scattered moments when a not-horrible movie peeks through, such as the quick introduction — and quicker exit — of Passive Aggressive Smurf, voiced by Jimmy Kimmel. These scenes are outnumbered 20-to-1 by wince-inducing moments. Example: When Patrick’s stepfather is turned into a duck and sets other ducks free from a restaurant, Harris is made to utter the line “What are you, Martin Luther Wing?” Reminder: this film had FIVE SCREENWRITERS.

Ultimately, we must blame the studio, not the filmmakers. “The Smurfs 2” is directed by the guy who made “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and two “Scooby-Doo” films, so Sony Pictures Animation knew what they were getting into. That said, “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” looks like “Rear Window” after watching “The Smurfs 2.”

One final complaint, before you face your pleading “Smurfs”-loving child, and decide to see the film anyway. “The Smurfs 2” is filled with many modern updates, including a Facebook page for Azrael the cat, and Nelly Furtado on the soundtrack for the Smurfs to shake their little blue rumps to. But an evil version of Smurfette is portrayed as being a brunette, before she is “saved” and turned by magic into a little blond flirt, who pouts to get what she wants from all the boys in the village.

Pretty smurfed up for a children’s movie in 2013. Please let there by an appearance by Gloria Steinem Smurf for the sequel.

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