Warning: If you have a cursory knowledge of Toy Story and Ocean’s Eleven, you’ll be fine. But if you haven’t seen The Way Way Back, this might not make a lot of sense.
Additional Warning: Once again, I’ve spent way too much time on this.
Our story opens four years after the events of The Way Way Back. Duncan (Liam James) is driving to Cape Cod with his mother Pam (Toni Collette). On the drive, we’re treated to an introductory exposition dump, set to upbeat road trip music: it’s been four years since they last went to Cape Cod; Duncan is going to college after the summer, so this is his last chance to spend time with his mom and have an adventure before growing up; Pam broke up with Trent (Steve Carell), had a nervous breakdown, and is strapped for cash – if only there was some way to pay for Duncan’s college; and Trent, devastated by the breakup, had a mid-life crisis and moved to Cape Cod – let’s hope we’ve seen the last of him…
They arrive at the house. Awkward but comical reunion with Betty and Peter, their summer-home-neighbors. Susanna has moved to California and has given up on romantic relationships altogether, which means Duncan’s character arc won’t involve romance this time around. Duncan, caught off guard by the effects of #MeToo on his storyline, decides to visit Water Wizz and reunite with Owen (Sam Rockwell), the owner of the local water park.
Owen still runs the park, and he’s the same goofy father figure as before. Lewis (Jim Rash) still works grudgingly at the park. The main difference is that Caitlin and Owen broke up: unsurprisingly, Owen’s antics were too much for her. Otherwise, things haven’t changed much. Brief montage reliving moments from the first movie.
That evening, Owen and Lewis discuss a top secret plan with Duncan: they’re planning to rob The Mirage, a popular casino-waterpark hybrid run by none other than Trent! The Mirage has been hurting business at Water Wizz, so Owen and Lewis want payback. Duncan likes the idea: it’s a chance to get revenge on Trent for how he treated Pam in the first movie.
Having established motives, we meet the supporting cast: a collection of AI-enhanced toys that Lewis built in his spare time (turns out he’s a genius). They are:
— Suave Guy, a Woody doll
— Other Suave Guy, a Buzz Lightyear action figure
— The Awkward One, a T-Rex
— The Acrobat, a robot spider with a baby head and no voice
— Explosives Guy, a Combat Carl
— Mister Experience, a Mr. Potato Head
4 – Suave Guy
All the toys have their own personalities, and can move around autonomously (except for Mister Experience, who just sits on the shelf and makes fun of everyone). We have a comic scene establishing their characters. Duncan agrees to help with the heist. He bikes back to the summer home with a purpose – upbeat pop music blares in his earbuds.
The next day, Duncan and his mom discuss the future – Pam will miss him when he goes to college, he says it’s part of growing up, etc. She’s reluctant to let him leave, because she wants to spend as much time with him as she can. He says he’s busy and leaves. Pensive shot of Pam yearning for the good old days.
Cut to Duncan at Water Wizz, discussing the heist with Owen, Lewis, and the toys. Comic banter ensues. Very few specific details are mentioned, but here are the takeaways:
1 — Owen and Lewis aren’t allowed at The Mirage, since they’re the competitors. That means Duncan will need to get a job working in the hotel, as the inside man
2 — The stakes are high
5 – Other Suave Guy
Next, a preliminary setup montage. Duncan goes to the park, pretends to be friendly with Trent so he can get a job, and begins work as a bellhop. He learns the layout of the waterpark and the hotel, and even gets a tour from Trent, who highlights the hotel’s state of the art security features. Pam tries to spend time with Duncan, but he’s too busy. The scene ends abruptly when Duncan sees Pam and Trent kissing back at the house. It’s obvious that Trent is manipulating Pam again, and Pam insists that they’ve fallen back in love – but Duncan doesn’t say anything, because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the operation.
Another group meeting to review the heist. Once again, few explicit details are discussed, because we don’t want to have the whole heist explained before it unfolds (it’s boring to watch it play out twice). Duncan points out a few interesting facts. For one, the safe is located in Trent’s office, and it’s not that big, so it’s easy to steal. But… Trent’s office is biometrically protected, meaning that only Trent can unlock it. Since they’re amateur thieves, they can’t bypass the biometric security, so they’ll need Trent to be in the building. And since he only works during the day, they’ll need to pull off the heist in broad daylight! What a wrench in their plans!!
6 – The Acrobat
Duncan also learned that Trent has a trophy wife. Owen informs them that her name is Julia Roberts, and she’s very reclusive — nobody ever sees her, but she lives in the room right across from Trent’s office. Duncan suggests that they make Julia a part of the heist – if they can use her to catch Trent’s attention, he might be distracted long enough for them to steal the safe. That means… Duncan will have to work on his flirting skills. And what better way to learn than a montage with Owen! Cue Lewis rolling his eyes as Owen teaches Duncan how to flirt.
Next scene, Trent is at the house with Pam and Duncan. There’s an awkward dinner scene where Duncan pretends to be okay with it, but he can’t fake it anymore and begins yelling at Trent. Trent, furious, threatens to fire Duncan. Pam mediates, assures Duncan that she and Trent are in love (even though Trent is clearly abusive), and asks Trent not to fire Duncan. Trent agrees for Pam’s sake, and Duncan storms off to his room.
7 – Explosives Guy
Another montage for the day before the heist. It turns out, Peter (lazy-eye neighbor) works as a lifeguard at The Mirage. Duncan recruits him, Peter agrees to help out so long as he gets a cut of the money. Comic scene where the toys are practicing (although we aren’t quite sure what for, again, because you can’t spoil the heist before it happens). One more tense scene: a dinner party with Trent, Pam, Duncan and their neighbors. Duncan doesn’t have another outburst, he’s just passive aggressive to both his mother and Trent. Good thing he’s about to make Trent pay…
Time for the heist. It’s a sunny day at the waterpark, lots of guests. Peter is on duty at the wave pool, and he discreetly pours a bag of powder into the water pump. The Awkward One is hidden in his backpack.
8 – The Awkward One
Cut to Duncan, who is pushing a luggage cart down the hotel hallways. There are several suitcases piled on it. He knocks on the door for the security office, then pretends it was the wrong room. The security guards berate Duncan for being an idiot – as they do, Suave Guy and Other Suave Guy sneak off the luggage cart and into the office. They make the guards think they’re hallucinating because they’re talking to toys. The guards run out of the room in a panic; the toys lock the door behind them.
Cut back to the wave pool – the water is getting murky and bubbly. One of the other lifeguards asks what’s going on; Peter says it’s probably not dangerous, just an issue with the pump.
Cut back to Duncan, who’s on the top floor of the hotel. He knocks on the door for Julia Roberts’ room, right across from Trent’s office. She opens the door, and he’s stunned to find Caitlin, Owen’s ex! After a few seconds of shock, Duncan thinks back to when Owen was first telling him about the heist. He realizes that Owen probably wanted to get back at Caitlin, not just Trent. But why wouldn’t Owen have told him?
Duncan is snapped back into reality by Caitlin, who recognizes him from four years earlier. They make awkward small talk, and Duncan reveals that Trent is cheating on her. Caitlin immediately knocks on Trent’s door and demands to see him. Trent opens it reluctantly. Caitlin storms into the office and finds Pam hiding in the closet. She and Pam both leave angrily, and Trent follows right behind them, trying to explain himself.
Fortunately, they all left in a hurry, and Duncan propped the door open with the luggage cart. He unzips one of the suitcases to let out Explosives Guy and The Acrobat. They maneuver themselves behind the safe and release a mini-explosion to detach it from the wall. Duncan barely manages to hoist it onto the luggage cart and put it in a duffel bag. Just in time, too – Trent comes back in the office and yells at Duncan to leave.
Cut back to Peter at the wave pool. He gets a text from Duncan: ‘All Clear’. The swimmers are already paranoid by the thick foam in the water. To make matters worse, Peter slips The Awkward One into the pool by ‘accidentally’ dropping his backpack in the water. A few seconds later, one of the swimmers screams that something touched their leg. Then another, and another. The water is so murky that nobody can see The Awkward One swimming around and touching them. With everybody panicking, the lifeguards have the pool cleared out.
Cut back to Duncan. He passes by the security office to get Suave Guy and Other Suave Guy. Peter meets up with him in the lobby, and they carry the safe outside. Amidst the swarm of guests exiting the wave pool and entering the hotel, they’re able to slip out undetected.
10 – Mister Experience
That night, the gang celebrates. Duncan briefly confronts Owen for not telling him about Caitlin. Owen apologizes and explains that he was bitter and embarrassed about the breakup, which was why he didn’t tell Duncan that she was Trent’s girlfriend. They make amends, split the money with the others, and have a going away party for Duncan. One last bittersweet comic montage.
End with Duncan and Pam driving home. Through flashbacks, we see that Pam was secretly in on the heist. She had faked falling in love with Trent, and she and Duncan planned all the confrontations ahead of time. She’s glad that she and Duncan had one last adventure together, and she is finally able to let him go. Not to mention they have money for his college now! Melodramatic closing shot of the car driving away while Clair De Lune plays.