ZERO STARS

'The Emoji Movie'

A "meh" emoji learns about life in his user's smartphone in this insipid animated time-waster.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens Friday, July 28.

Rating • PG for rude humor.

Running time • 86 minutes, plus a 5-minute short, "Hotel Transylvania: Puppy!"

The story of the animated "Emoji Movie" centers on a character having an existential quandary: whether he, an emoji, can have more than one feeling.

It's ironic — and this is as close as this stupid, witless, humorless movie gets to irony — that the only reaction the movie elicits through its entire 86 minutes is "meh."

Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller) is a "meh" emoji, raised by his "meh" parents, Mel (voiced by Steven Wright) and Mary (voiced by Jennifer Coolidge), to show a lack of enthusiasm in any situation. That's the way life is in Textopolis, the central hub inside the smartphone of Alex (voiced by Jake T. Austin), a generic high-school freshman. In Textopolis, we're told by Smiler (voiced by Maya Rudolph), the happy face who runs the emoji world, every emoji has one and only one expression.

But on his first day on the big display of emoji, Gene panics, and instead of a "meh" face, he delivers a weird hybrid of many faces. Smiler orders Gene to be deleted, forcing him to escape for his life with his hand-shape sidekick, Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden). Hi-5 knows there's a hacker, Jailbreak (voiced by Anna Faris), hiding in Alex's phone — and maybe she can help Gene reboot his source code and become a "meh" again.

As the three travel through Alex's other apps — a forest of Silicon Valley product placement that includes Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Candy Crush, Just Dance and more — Gene gets closer to Jailbreak and starts to question whether being "meh" is all he wants to be.

Director Tony Leondis ("Igor"), who co-wrote the original script with Eric Siegel (followed by a desperate rewrite by "School of Rock" writer Mike White), tries to capture the "[fill-in-the-blank] have feelings, too" vibe of Pixar's "Toy Story" and "Inside Out." But the feelings he tries to capture are as blandly nonspecific as the featureless faces conveying them.

Without interesting characters, what's a bland animated movie to do? Deliver a string of bad puns and lame visual gags, with the subtlety and repetition of a jackhammer. Most of the jokes involve the poop emoji, though it seems Leondis and company thought their work was done when they cajoled Sir Patrick Stewart to provide the poop emoji's voice.

If "The Emoji Movie" were trying to be funny and missing, or even striving for so-bad-it's-entertaining territory, it wouldn't be as tediously awful as the wishy-washy product that it is. "Meh" is more of a response than this flat waste of time deserves.