I wanted to start this review of “The Bad Guys” with a trip down memory lane, my experiences with animated films as a kid. However, that would be unkind to Pierre Perifel’s new animated film, now in theaters.

“The Bad Guys” is a heist story couched in animal characters, each as sneaky as the next. Mr. Wolf, voiced by Sam Rockwell, is a stealthy fella. He knows his way around a room, knows who or, in this case, what to target. He is good at his job. Mr. Snake is his right hand, a sarcastic Eastern brown snake. Voiced by Marcel Maron, Mr. Snake is good with safes and a quick-witted tongue.

The quick-thinking group is more than meets the eye, as Annie-nominated screenwriter Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa) applies adult-themed characters into a rollicking animated film targeted equally toward older children.

Anthony Ramos joins Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake as Mr. Piranha, a Bolivian red-bellied piranha, Craig Robinson’s Mr. Shark, a master of disguise, which is funny given that, well, he’s a shark. Awkwafina’s Ms. Tarantula is the sharp-tongued one of the group, matching wits with Mr. Snake, and is good with technology.

All the pieces in Cohen’s script fall to a ‘T’ with Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake, Ocean’s Eleven, right down to a line about George Clooney. The voice work in the film was so good that I thought that it was Clooney. That would have been too obvious.

Richard Ayoade plays Professor Rupert Marmalade IV, a guinea pig who doesn’t quite evoke Andy Garcia but comes darned close. Zazie Beetz plays Diane Foxington, the governor of this Los Angeles. Foxington’s performance played their cards too close to their vest; the gleam in her eyes, specific attributes about her character that didn’t jive with her presentation, and her reveal was expected.

An animated version of Ocean’s Eleven is a welcomed one, though. The story works its way through many deceptive layers, landing our bad guys in a good spot seeing their opportunity. Just in time, too: the pompous Marmalade has plans of his own, not exactly a surprise, but perhaps an ill-defined aspect of the story that, had it been less obvious, it might have been a stronger story, considering Cohen adapted his script from Aaron Blabey’s children’s book series.

Taking the apparent lift, and please pardon the pun, from Ocean’s Eleven, out of the equation, the characters are the main attraction, with the entire cast doing a yeoman’s work. Daniel Pemberton’s score is playful and, interestingly, like The Northman, is a lifeblood of this film.

Technologically, DreamWorks Animation’s computer-generated imagery is some of the best I’ve seen. It would be a treat to see this in 3D; the characters and their environs stand out exceptionally well in 2D; the added depth would have made the story shine even brighter.

The Bad Guys is a fun but vexing film. The voice cast is its strength, and for his directorial debut, Pierre Perifel achieves a character-driven piece that doesn’t necessarily know which age group it is aimed at the young or the young-at-heart and lifts too much from prior heist films. Through the layers, it finds its heart, and that’s what matters as the house lights come up.


The Bad Guys

Directed by Pierre Perifel

Screenplay by Etan Cohen, based on The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

Featuring Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Anthony Ramos, Craig Robinson, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beets, Lily Singh

PG/100 minutes/Universal