One and a half stars out of four
For the first time in nearly two decades, a major studio (Warner Bros.) is releasing a “Pokémon” movie with the hopes that the participation of Ryan Reynolds voicing the title character will change the fortune of the franchise for the better.
Based on the budget (oddly not reported by the studio), this could be a big gamble with a huge potential pay-off or a good reason not make another one for 20 more years.
Fans of the rest of the movies are sure to see this puppy at least once. But if you take it in thinking Reynolds will be turning in a version on his wise-cracking “Deadpool” character, you’ll be sadly disappointed. Remember the letdown you experienced courtesy of the “PG-13” version of “Deadpool 2”? Multiply that by 10 and then 10 again.
The closest Reynolds ever gets to dangerous or funny here is occasionally using his outdoor voice. The good news is that Reynolds is the best part of the film. Sadly, that’s the bad news as well.
The “Pokémon” franchise — comprised of movies, video games, plush toys, playing cards and an inane game (“Pokémon Go”) people with a death wish played on the their phones a couple years ago — is arguably the most successful anime (Japanese animation) enterprise of all time. The problem is, it has never really caught fire in the U.S., and this movie will not change that fact.
The latest in a string of critical and (mostly) box office failures from director Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Goosebumps”), “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is sorely lacking in both engaging content and an original presentation.
Unashamedly pilfering from the likes of “Blade Runner,” “Men in Black,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and many others, Letterman and his four (?!) co-writers concoct a garish/day glow caper/mismatched buddy flick which has all the tension of a “Nancy Drew” or “Hardy Boys” adventure. Very little is ever at stake and, as this is a PG-rated children’s movie, the story is never too complicated and the action and violence are practically non-existent, at least for the first hour.
In all fairness to the filmmakers and the studio, making a movie which can appeal to audiences of all ages is a tough nut to crack, and given that all 21 previous Pokémon movies were rated “G,” all involved here should have played it safe and gone the route of animation.
After his absentee detective father, Harry (Paul Kitson), is presumed dead in a car wreck, son Tim (Justice Smith) needs to settle his affairs but instead gets sidetracked into finding out who committed the crime by his father’s former Pokémon partner, Pikachu (Reynolds). For reasons which only make minor sense in the last few minutes of the movie, Tim can actually understand what Pikachu says. As it turns out, humans and Pokémon can’t understand each others’ languages, and it hasn’t occurred to anyone to look into starting a translation business.
Making it much easier for Tim to become a gumshoe is Lucy (Kathryn Newton), an upstart investigative reporter working for the fictional CNM news channel looking into the same crime for different reasons. Taking place in the overpopulated, Tokyo-influenced “Ryme City,” Tim, Lucy, Pikachu and Lucy’s Pokémon Psyduck sidekick unfurl a much bigger conspiracy that might involve city founder Howard Clifford (a slumming Bill Nighy) and his angry-for-no-reason son, Roger (Chris Geere). We know one or both of them are up to no good because each speaks with a British accent.
Lots of talk and needless exposition finally make way for an extended and overlong action/chase sequence clearly modeled after anything found in the largely generic Marvel franchise. Not violent so much as it is likely to induce motion sickness or cause stress for those with a fear of heights, parents should be prepared for easily impressionable younger viewers to get upset for the duration of the third act.
Unless your children are totally chomping at the bit to see “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” do yourself a huge favor. Save your money. Take them to a park instead and plan on watching it on-demand in the comfort of your own home.