Movie review: ‘The Smurfs 2’

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. (“Are you smurfing kidding me?”)

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 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 (Katy Perry) is kidnapped by two horrible Smurfs called the Naughties; the wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) plots to take over the world by sucking the life force from the Smurfs; Patrick (Harris) harshly rejects his clownish father-in-law, Victor (Brendan Gleeson); Gargamel captures the Smurf rescue team and puts them in cages; Smurfette and the Naughties vandalize a candy store; and 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.

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 it was getting into.

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. But an evil version of Smurfette is portrayed as being a brunette, before she is “saved” and turned by magic into a little blonde flirt, who pouts to get what she wants from all the boys in the village.