‘Secret Life of Pets 2’ suffers from lackluster script

This image released by Universal Pictures shows, from left, Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, Liam, voiced by Henry Lynch and Max, voiced by Patton Oswalt in a scene from "The Secret Life of Pets 2." (Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures via AP)

The sequel to “Secret Life of Pets” sort of succeeds in spite of itself.

For much of the film, I couldn’t figure out whether they were trying too hard — or not hard enough.

There’s no question it’s poorly written, with a rambling story and only a few decent laughs. Yet somehow when the thing is over, you don’t exactly feel ripped off — unless maybe you shelled out $60 on the 3D version for the whole family.

The original 2016 film was clever, fast and funny, raking in nearly $1 billion worldwide. Featuring bright, snappy computer animation, it began with pets who are alone all day at home and quickly morphed into a zig-zaggy adventure with Animal Control, rejected pets, a lunatic rabbit named Snowball, a sausage factory, long-lost owners and the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Pets 2,” by contrast, casually trundles characters from the previous film through three apparently unrelated stories: some visit a farm, one gets involved with a house full of cats and others work to free a tiger from the circus. After about an hour of limp dialog and stale slapstick, the three strands finally come together in an effective climax aboard a train. Since I’d been restless and kept checking my watch (not a good sign in an 86-minute movie), I was surprised to find myself caught up in the excitement and very much concerned about a happy outcome.

Much of this is due to effective vocal work in nearly every role. Comedian Louis CK had voiced protagonist Max in the first film — but his career has gone south in the wake of sexual misconduct, and he is replaced here by an excellent Patton Oswalt. Kevin Hart returns as Snowball, along with Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell and Dana Carvey, also reprising roles from “Pets 1.”

Best of all are newcomers Tiffany Haddish, as Daisy the Shih Tzu, and — surprise surprise — Harrison Ford as a tough old sheepdog. Ford, who has never done an animated film, is instantly recognizable — and so much fun that he almost single-handedly redeems an otherwise tepid film.

Though critics were unenthusiastic about “Pets 2,” audiences gave it an A-minus; so a third film is probably on the way.

Let’s hope they put a lot more thought into the script.

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