Foreign-language "double talk," or pidgin-y gibberish, was once the dazzling specialty of the recently late, always great Sid Caesar. But Caesar practiced his double talk in the idiom of sketch comedy, while the CGI-animated stars of "Minions" try to stretch their babbling shtick to 91 minutes.
Like the Penguins of "Madagascar" before them, these Minions (spun off from the mega-popular "Despicable Me" films) don't so much go on an adventure, in their own solo movie, as run a fool's errand. As written by Brian Lynch and directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, there's not-insignificant wit kicking around in "Minions". But with "Inside Out" playing next door, "Minions" too-sparse spurts of anarchic humor and kiddie-confection empty calories conjure the impression of a backyard fireworks display trying to compete with a theme-park one.
In the early-going, "Minions" comes out swinging for the fences, with a credits sequence showing the evolutionary origin of the titular tribe and, more importantly, the impressive names of the voice cast (Oscar winner Sandra Bullock! Oscar nominee Michael Keaton! Erstwhile "Mad Man" Jon Hamm!). Forthwith, another Oscar-winner (Geoffrey Rush) lays down narration for the history of this world, part one (with no apologies to Mel Brooks). This, however, is the Minions' show, and while the walking, double-talking hench-Twinkies begoggled, clad in overalls, and sporting sparse sprigs of hair have proved to be swell comic relief, they'll probably never be ready for their close-ups.
Once 1968 rolls around in this origin-story prequel, we're off to the races with Minion trio Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all Coffin). These cute, semi-distinctive Minions light out from their Antarctic brethren to find a worthy master to serve, soon setting their sights on villainous it-girl Scarlet Overkill (Bullock), the toast of international villain convention Villain-Con. As "Despicable Me" lovers must suspect, Scarlet's not worthy of the Minions' impressed devotion, but every hench-Twinkie has to start somewhere. Hamm offers a funny American spin on Tom Jones as Scarlet's hubby Herb, and Keaton does a funny tourist rube, but even they get lost in a slack plot, and Bullock fails to make much of her weakly written baddie.
"Minions" simply feels late to the party by spinning off sidekicks (a la "Penguins of Madagascar" less than eight months ago) as it trades on '60s style (a la the "Austin Powers" series, "The Incredibles," "Monsters vs. Aliens," etc.). The technical execution is strong, especially in the London-set action scene, but the invention is weak, and scored predictably with wall-to-wall vintage Britpop. By the time they get to a chorus of "Hey, hey, we're the Minions," kids will be squirming and parents will be wishing they had skipped an unnecessary trip to the theater.