‘Pokemon De­tec­tive Pikachu’: Get a clue

The News-Times - - DIVERSIONS - By Peter Hart­laub phart­[email protected]­i­cle.com

Pokemon De­tec­tive Pikachu Rated: PG for ac­tion/peril, some rude and sug­ges­tive hu­mor, and the­matic el­e­ments. Run­ning time: 104 min­utes. 66 out of 4

The mak­ers of “Pokemon De­tec­tive Pikachu” un­der­stand there will be some Poke-clue­less adults in the au­di­ence, and grant mercy on them.

The ac­tion takes place in about an 85 per­cent live­ac­tion world, with a fa­mil­iar de­tec­tive noir con­struct. Our heroes seem to spend more time ex­plain­ing the Pokemon that ap­pear on screen than ac­tu­ally train­ing them. Ryan Reynolds pro­vides the voice of an­i­mated co-star Pikachu, and ba­si­cally per­forms a PGrated ver­sion of his pop­u­lar Dead­pool char­ac­ter.

But de­spite at­tempts to cultivate main­stream ap­peal, the re­turns are di­min­ish­ing in the new movie, es­pe­cially dur­ing the ac­tion-heavy and unin­spired third act. Your en­joy­ment of this film will de­pend on how much in­vest­ment you have in Pokemon com­ing in — or whether you have a Pocket Mon­ster-savvy kid nearby to trans­late.

“Pokemon De­tec­tive Pikachu” is grounded in some­thing close to the real world, de­signed like the GPS-aided mo­bile game “Pokemon Go,” but with­out the need for aug­mented re­al­ity to see the mon­sters. Col­lege grad­u­ate Tim Good­man (Jus­tice Smith) has trou­ble cap­tur­ing the free range Pokemon that roam the coun­try­side, and bond­ing with the crea­tures.

The death of Tim’s es­tranged fa­ther sends him to a “Who Framed Roger Rab­bit?”-style metropo­lis where Pokemon and men live es­sen­tially as equals. Tim joins forces with the ubiq­ui­tous Pikachu, an elec­tric­ity-based crea­ture who ap­pears to be a mix of a capy­bara, a ca­nary and a car bat­tery.

These early mo­ments, the best in the film, feel like a Chris Colum­bus-di­rected early “Harry Pot­ter” movie. Smith is a like­able ac­tor, and his grief and iso­la­tion seem real, as we are slowly in­tro­duced to the col­or­ful Pokemon world.

Di­rec­tor Rob Let­ter­man, who guided “Goose­bumps” to success in 2015, has a knack for pro­vid­ing insider mo­ments for the fans, with­out alien­at­ing new­com­ers. As sev­eral dozen dif­fer­ent fluffy, fiery and gelati­nous crea­tures are in­tro­duced, the rules of the Pokemon world al­ways seem clear.

Best of all, “Pokemon De­tec­tive Pikachu” never takes it­self 100 per­cent se­ri­ously. When a char­ac­ter starts sing­ing the Pokemon theme song — you know, the one that’s been stuck in your head for the past 17 years — it’s pre­sented with both cel­e­bra­tion and a hint of apol­ogy.

The first ma­jor prob­lems sur­face in an early ac­tion scene, an un­der­ground cage match that never takes off. There’s a lot of pos­tur­ing and big speeches in this movie, cou­pled with ex­tremely bland fight chore­og­ra­phy. Pikachu, pre­sum­ably on ev­ery other child’s back­pack these past two decades for a rea­son, never gets much of a chance to show his pow­ers.

Reynolds of­ten seems lost for ma­te­rial, whether it’s the re­stric­tions of the PG rating, or de­fi­cien­cies cre­ated by the four screen­writ­ers. By the half­way mark Pikachu might as well be in an “Alvin and the Chip­munks” se­quel, re­sort­ing to bod­ily func­tion jokes.

By the time the cen­tral mys­tery is even­tu­ally solved, with an ini­tially con­fus­ing fin­ish, the 104minute run­ning time feels closer to 21⁄2 hours.

But at the end the flesh and blood char­ac­ters take over again, with a re­minder that de­spite the movie’s draw­backs, “Pokemon De­tec­tive Pikachu” had a pretty good heart the whole time.

That’s the small vic­tory for any re­luc­tant chap­er­ones in the au­di­ence. If you’re go­ing to spend money and hours of your time on a movie you per­son­ally don’t want to see, it’s nice to fin­ish with a clear, pos­i­tive mes­sage.

Warner Bros. Pic­tures / TNS

Jus­tice Smith and Kathryn New­ton in a scene from “Pokemon De­tec­tive Pikachu.”

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