Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
The titular character was introduced in 1991. It was a video game series developed for Sega Genesis. The character quickly became Sega’s mascot and biggest franchise, rising as one of the best-selling video games of all time. It remains in the top twenty of video game franchises in history. Various animated programs were produced based on the video game, but this is the first, live-action feature to hit the big screen. There have been over 30, live-action features that have been based on video games. The majority of them struggle to get a Rotten Tomatoes score over 40. Counting this one, there have only been five of those features that have scored over 40. The previous, video-game feature to do so was last year’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019), which not only got the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of any video-game feature, but it also received the highest, world-wide, box office of any video-game feature with $433 million. Of course, it makes sense that Paramount Pictures would see the success of that 2019 flick from Warner Bros. and want to mimic it.
Paramount scheduled this film to be released the same year as that Warner Bros. film, but bad reactions to this film’s trailer forced the studio to push back the release to this year. Instead of the titular character being as cute as the character in Pokémon Detective Pikachu, the initial look resembled the more life-like and uncanny depictions as in The Lion King (2019) and Cats (2019). Having a cute character at its center that more resembled the original video-game design was perhaps more preferable. Having that cute, more cuddly creature at its center isn’t the only resemblance to Pokémon Detective Pikachu though, this film also had that cute creature be voiced by a very wise-cracking, comedic actor. For Warner Bros., that comedic actor was Ryan Reynolds.
Here, that comedic actor is the lesser known Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation and House of Lies). Schwartz though has the same kind of energy and vocal skills as Reynolds. The main difference is that Schwartz’s brand of humor here leans away from the more vulgar humor that dominates Reynolds’ humor. Reynolds is more of a potty mouth than Schwartz who is funny but does so less with toiler humor. His delivery and tone are perfect for this material and in general. Schwartz definitely keeps things light, bubbly and fun. He’s not called upon to do much in the way of heavy or dramatic stuff, but his more serious moments were not totally lost.
James Marsden (Enchanted and X-Men) stars as Tom Wachowski, a sheriff in a small, rural town in Montana named Green Hills. He’s a very personable, police officer who is very beloved in his town, but he is rather bored with his job. He doesn’t see any action. His duties are often quiet and desolate. He aspires to get a job in a bigger city, specifically San Francisco. He’s basically the straight man who gets swept up in what will be the titular character’s adventure where he’ll have to learn to appreciate his home and his life there.
Tika Sumpter (Nobody’s Fool and Ride Along) co-stars as Maddie, the wife of Tom. She’s a veterinarian in the town. One of the reasons that Tom wants to move to San Francisco is probably due to his wife. Maddie seems to be from San Francisco herself. She certainly has a sister that lives in San Fran. Yet, she feels just as, if not more at home in Montana as in California. She doesn’t seem to be pushing him to leave, but she is supportive of his decision and seems just as content to follow him wherever because she clearly loves him.
Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) also stars as Ivo Robotnik, a scientific genius who has developed an advanced system of drones and other machines to assist him in his quest to discover life from outer space, as well as most likely assist the government in the creation of weapons. He discovers that alien life is present on Earth, specifically in Montana and he doggedly pursues it. He’s arguably a sociopath who has no regard for human life. He only cares about his machines. The kind of energy and loud or bold comedy from Carrey that he embraced in the 90’s when he played villains in films like Batman Forever (1995) and The Cable Guy (1996) are back in full force here and it’s again funny, as well as a bit refreshing.
Of course, being a fan of the Sega Genesis, there’s a lot of nostalgia at play here, which will poke at viewers of a certain age. Clearly, Generation X will get plenty of kicks out of this. However, this film would also appeal to viewers under the age of 30 who have been enured to the onslaught of super-hero films. Oscar-nominee Jeff Fowler in his directorial debut references comic book, super-hero characters. There are two obvious references. One is to a super-hero in the DC Comics. The other is a super-hero from Marvel Comics and specifically a movie adapted from Marvel Comics. The first reference is literally the titular character reading an issue of The Flash.
The second is a rip-off of a scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) in which Quicksilver is able to manipulate characters moving in slow-motion. It’s supposed to be an indication of how fast he is, just as the titular character here is very fast. Yes, the slow-motion scene here is a rip-off, but it’s effective in the clever ways that the filmmakers are able to make the most fun out of it. Fowler and his team do exactly that, meaning have fun with this material and it shows on screen. For me, that’s enough to make this stand as the best video-game adaptation I’ve ever seen.
Rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.