Right down to the brute functionality of its title, "The Smurfs 2" may be the platonic ideal of a major studio sequel — no markedly better or worse than the first and with just enough difference to lay claim to being something new. Just as with the 2011 film "The Smurfs," the new "The Smurfs 2" is a passable mediocrity.
Again mixing live-action with computer animation, the story this time revolves around the bad wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria), who has been performing as a magician in modern-day Paris, kidnapping Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) as part of a plan to bring about "Smurf-A-Geddon." He is aided by two of his own creations, "the Naughties" known as Vexy and Hackus (voiced by Christina Ricci and J.B. Smoove).
Papa Smurf (voiced again by Jonathan Winters, who died in April) travels from Smurf Village with a B-team of lesser Smurfs: Clumsy, Grouchy and Vanity (voiced by Anton Yelchin, George Lopez and John Oliver). The Smurfs call upon the human couple who helped them in the first film (played by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays), who now have a son named Blue (Jacob Tremblay).
The big addition to the live-action cast is Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, taking a break from tough-guy roles to play the bungling stepfather of Harris' character. (Though it's hard not to wonder why no French actors were used in the cast, what with the Paris setting and all. Mathieu Amalric wouldn't return calls?)
Directed by Raja Gosnell, who also made the first film, the new "Smurfs" has a screenplay credited to J. David Stern, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn and Karey Kirkpatrick. There are quick references to "Scarface," "The Empire Strikes Back," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and perhaps others presumably to keep the parents in the audience awake, though an incongruous passing joke on "no means no" is the wrong kind of jolt. But there's also a joke about Smurfs farting in the bath, so maybe it evens out.
Current "Daily Show" host Oliver seems to be having the most fun among the voice cast, though there is an awful lot of talent that goes largely untapped, including Paul Reubens, Jimmy Kimmel, B.J. Novak, Kenan Thompson and Shaquille O'Neal, as their characters are in only the short framing scenes set in the Smurf Village. As in the first film, many of the best moments here come from the playfully spiteful exchanges between Azaria's Gargamel and his sort-of talking cat Azrael, with a liveliness the Smurfs themselves somehow lack.
Even though the "Smurfs" films never quite took full advantage of Winters' antic comedic gifts in the role as the softly wizened Papa Smurf, the end credits feature a dedication to the late comedy legend for "making the world a smurfier place." The acknowledgment is a classy touch.
'The Smurfs 2'
MPAA rating: PG for some rude humor and action
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Playing: In general releaseCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times