Based on the hugely successful video game franchise, Pokémon Detective Pikachu stars Justice Smith as Tim, a young Pokémon trainer who learns that his father Harry has died in a suspicious car crash.
Upon hearing the news, he travels to Harry’s apartment in Ryme City, a unique town where Pokémon and people live in peaceful co-existence. It is there that Tim encounters Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a Pokémon who is able to communicate freely with Tim while other humans can only hear him repeat his name ad nauseam. The two set out to uncover clues which point to a cover-up that suggests Harry could still be alive.
It’s no secret that video games tend to translate poorly to the big screen. While this film does have some admirable elements, it often feels too far removed from its original source material.
An early scene suggests a simpler movie that could have been, where Tim and his friend (who disappears from the film afterwards) are trying to catch a Cubone with a Pokéball in the wild. Even as someone who hasn’t played Pokémon in 20 years, I was still able to track with the terms of this Poké-world, but the actual premise of the film rarely resembles the gameplay of those early Gameboy entries or the anime series that coincides with them.
With visual allusions to Blade Runner and a storyline that mirrors Zootopia to an uncomfortable degree, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is conceptually busy even before we meet the cherubic titular character. When Reynolds enters the mix with his signature brand of smart aleck banter, the film veers more in the direction of a buddy comedy along the lines of The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
On top of all of these incongruous tones, director Rob Letterman drags us through a whodunit so convoluted that even the most ardent of Poké-fans will have a hard time making heads or tails of the unnecessarily complicated plot developments.
As one may expect, the movie is packed to the gills with bits of fan service embedded in nearly every frame and loads of Pokémon blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos. If the sight of Machamp directing street traffic or Jigglypuff singing karaoke doesn’t sound enticing, it’s likely that you’re not in the film’s desired demographic.
As someone who is relatively Poké-agnostic, the barrage of admittedly well-rendered CG creatures didn’t add or detract much from my overall experience, although I did grow attached to the adorably nebbish Psyduck character. His ability to create powerful psychic blasts unexpectedly when he gets overwhelmed is a subject of my favorite gag in the film.
Less successful from a comedic standpoint is woefully miscast Reynolds as Pikachu, who quickly wears out his welcome with tiresome riffing and snarky injections that come at a non-stop pace. It’s not clear exactly how much of his dialogue is the product of the screenplay or vocal booth improv from Reynolds, but the results suggest the latter over the former. The decision to cast him was obviously designed to cash in on the subversive persona cultivated from the successful Deadpool films, but that R-rated brand of humor just doesn’t gel in this kid-friendly environment.
Overdeveloped and under-realized, Pokémon Detective Pikachu serves as a reminder that sometimes simpler is better.
Coming to theaters this weekend
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, starring Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry, pits the unstoppable hitman against a legion of trained assassins after he is excommunicated from their guild.
A Dog’s Journey, starring Dennis Quaid and Josh Gad, is the family-friendly follow-up to A Dog’s Purpose in which a dog is reincarnated into different canine bodies to enrich the lives of those around him.
Opening at Cinema Center is Amazing Grace, a recently unearthed Sydney Pollack-directed concert film that captures Aretha Franklin’s 1972 performance from New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.
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