'The Bad Guys' review: Animated villain types find their good side

Sam Rockwell, Awkwafina and more voice characters in slick children's tale.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "The Bad Guys," the big bad wolf is the most evil villain on the planet, a quaint notion of simpler times when storybook characters were the worst we had to fear. 

OK, so it's a kid's movie, and a fast-paced, slickly rendered one at that. But it never quite grounds itself or finds a through line of storytelling reality to pass for anything more than a temporary distraction while things whiz by on screen and characters smirk at themselves and the audience.  

Marc Maron and Sam Rockwell voice characters in "The Bad Guys."

Sam Rockwell voices Mr. Wolf, who's not even that bad a guy here, a simple heist man decked out in a George Clooney suit. Danny Ocean robbed banks, sure, but he was about as good as supposed "bad" guys come, and as far as animated characters go, you probably wouldn't think twice about letting this Wolf babysit your children. (He has the voice of Sam Rockwell. How bad can he be?)   

He's softened because there's a lesson to be learned here, and the Bad Guys of the title — a posse of thieves that includes a shark (voice of Craig Robinson), a tarantula (Awkwafina), a snake (comic and podcaster Marc Maron) and a piranha (Anthony Ramos) — are in the process of converting to good guys.

Etan Cohen's screenplay is rather toothless, touching on themes of stereotyping and redemption, and it features flatulence — which takes the form of wavy green air — as not only a running gag, but a full-on plot point.  

There are Tarantino references for the adults (the characters' names all resemble the gang from "Reservoir Dogs," and is that meant to be the café from "Pulp Fiction" in the opening scene?), and, well, fart jokes for the kids. "The Bad Guys" isn't necessarily bad, but it could be a whole lot better. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'The Bad Guys'

GRADE: C 

Rated PG: for action and rude humor

Running time: 100 minutes

In theaters