We're one step closer to a threatened "Smurfs" trilogy with the arrival of "The Smurfs 2," a sequel that no one should be surprised to discover is every bit as generic, dull and lazy as its predecessor.

After all, why should director Raja Gosnell ("Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed") and his team take any chances or expend any extra effort when 2011's "The Smurfs" was rewarded with $560 million in worldwide grosses? As a franchise, "The Smurfs" represents the lowest common denominator in family filmmaking, but as long as it's making money, it's doing exactly what it needs to do.

And so no less than five (!) credited screenwriters came up with a paint-by-numbers sequel storyline involving Smurfette (cloyingly voiced by Katy Perry) experiencing a mid-smurf crisis when her friends "forget" her birthday. (They're actually planning a secret surprise party but -- tragedy! -- she has no idea.) This reawakens repressed feelings she has about her origins: she was created by the evil sorcerer Gargamel (Hank Azaria) to infiltrate and undermine the Smurf world before Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) lured her over to the side of good. That only makes Smurfette -- the only woman in a tribe full of men -- feel even more like an outsider. It could be deep, if it wasn't so stupid.

Anyway, Gargamel has created two new grey-skinned pseudo-Smurfs, scheming Vexy (Christina Ricci) and dim-witted Hackus (JB Smoove), who whisk Smurfette away to Paris and attempt to convince her they're her true family. A quartet of other Smurfs follow, reunite with their human friends Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays) and resolve to rescue Smurfette from Gargamel.

Will the Smurfs save Smurfette? Will the Naughties (as Gargamel dubs his creations) turn out to be good? Will Patrick, who is now a father himself, make peace with his estranged stepfather (Brendan Gleeson)? Is a Smurf's butt blue?

Only one of those questions is actually asked aloud in the film (I'll let you guess which one), but the answers are all depressingly the same. The film's maudlin messages about finding your own family are all well and good, but they're also treated like afterthoughts to the nonstop assault of frantic action, lame slapstick comedy, boring bathroom humor and one dimensional performances (Harris comes closest to locating a second dimension but it's clear he's just here for the paycheck).



Even the Smurfs themselves are utterly lacking in any charm or personality. Comedy legend Winters receives his final screen credit as Papa Smurf, but isn't asked to do anything beyond dispense occasional nuggets of wisdom. At least that's preferable to the insufferable and completely interchangeable supporting Smurf trio of Grouchy (George Lopez), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) and Vanity (John Oliver) who manage a single remarkable feat: they're equally unfunny.

More charitable viewers may wonder, "What did you expect? It's a movie for kids." But isn't that really like asking, "What did you expect? It's a movie for idiots"?

I'll go out on the limb the makers of "Smurfs" were too afraid to risk and say, as a general rule, kids aren't idiots. Unless you're looking for a tool to teach them just how soulless Hollywood entertainment can be, they deserve better than "The Smurfs 2."