In Oakton, purple squirrel Surly (Will Arnett) is banished from Liberty Park after accidentally destroying the community’s winter food supply. Accompanied by loyal sidekick Buddy, Surly lands on his feet when he discovers a nut shop around the corner from the park — stocking everything from peanuts to pistachios. Bank robbers are using the business as a front for their latest heist, and Surly must get passed their guard dog if he is to pull off his own. When Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Greyson (Brendan Fraser) are dispatched by Raccoon (Liam Neeson) to replace the lost food, it’s not long before they cross paths with Surly, and must ask for his help.

Everything about The Nut Job is unremarkable, from its crude animation to its bland voice cast, but when it does occasionally make an impression it is invariably a negative one. Had it not been released in the same year as Postman Pat: The Movie and Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, The Nut Job could very well have been the worst animated movie of 2014.

The main problem with Peter Lepeniotis’ film is the dearth of likeable characters. Surly (voiced imperceptibly by Will Arnett, unrecogniseable as the actor who played Batman in The LEGO Movie) is a selfish soul without a single redeeming feature. He is supported by Heigl as Andy and Gleeson as Greyson, neither of whom bring any personality to their respective avatars. It’s only the silent, Scrat-esque Buddy and Maya Rudolph’s misunderstood pug Precious who break up the monotony.

It doesn’t help that the script is very nearly laugh-free (save for unintentional giggles when a character intones that “winter is coming”). The dialogue falls extraordinarily flat, with the characters dealing almost exclusively in declaratives and their exchanges lacking in wit or rhythm. When the film does attempt humour the results are so awkward that you long for more exposition. The jokes are limited to painfully repetitive nut-puns and a couple of references to Gangnam Style that wouldn’t have been funny two years ago when they were actually relevant.

Also problematic is the film’s plot. Whereas Frozen dealt with sisterly love, The LEGO Movie preached individuality and How To Train Your Dragon 2 saw its characters faced with new responsibilities, The Nut Job is about a selfish rogue who learns to be…a slightly less selfish rogue. It’s a film about crime, but one with a mixed and sometimes murky message. The writers can’t even manage to set up a single successful joke, so when they broach complex subjects such as criminal justice or monopolisation the results are as disastrous as you might expect.

Clichéd, contrived and needlessly convoluted, The Nut Job is a real chore. While occasionally watchable, the film just isn’t good enough to compete in the current cinematic landscape. Naturally, there is already a sequel on the way. That, at least, is truly nuts.