Reel Critics: Nothing to despise in this family movie

A grumpy old man's life is forever changed by his chance encounter with lovable children. It's a classic plot in many family films. Here the kids are three adorable girls selling cookies to support their orphanage. They encounter mean Gru, voiced by Steve Carell. He fancies himself a sophisticated arch villain in their cartoon world.

A young rival named Vector makes headlines by stealing the Great Pyramid using his shrink ray gun. Gru plans to steal the gun to shrink the moon and hold it hostage. (Like I said, it's a cartoon world.) But Vector's home is a real fortress. Gru spies on Vector and discovers he allows the girls into his home to buy their cookies.

Gru decides to adopt the girls and use them to gain access to the fortress. Funny action-filled scenes follow his attempts to steal the moon. The old curmudgeon is gruff and cold with the girls when they first move in. But as the girls win his heart, Gru is transformed by the affection that slowly develops. In the end, the girls change the old guy's heart with their sweet natures and charming antics. They just might capture the hearts of the audience as well.

Burn, Baby, Burn

Swedish star Noomi Rapace burns up the screen once again in "The Girl Who Played with Fire," the crackling sequel to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Fans of the enormously popular Stieg Larsson novels will not be disappointed.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is a fascinatingly dark character and not your standard leather-clad heroine. Without her cigarettes, punk makeup and piercings, this damaged little soul looks too tiny to be so dangerous, yet her brains, beauty and desire for revenge cannot be underestimated. You want to protect her, even though she would seriously kick your butt if you tried.

We learn more of Salander's past in this installment that also involves a prostitution ring, a mysterious crime lord, and her onetime lover/fellow investigator Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who is the Robin to her Batman.

The climactic last act is full of surprises and suspense, with everything gloriously unresolved. It is the perfect setup for the final film, due in theaters this fall, and leaves one burning with anticipation.

JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.

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