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"POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU"
(2019) (Justice Smith, voice of Ryan Reynolds) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy/Action: A young man teams up with his father's Pokémon to try to find out whether the man's detective father, who reportedly perished in a mysterious car accident, is really dead.
PLOT:
Tim Goodman (JUSTICE SMITH) is a 21-year-old insurance appraiser who long ago gave up his childhood dream of being a Pokémon trainer. Some of that stems from his mother dying when he was eleven and the subsequent estrangement of his cop father who moved to Ryme City to be a detective. That high-tech metropolis -- where humans and Pokémon live side by side with the former no longer attempting to catch the latter -- was built by tech magnate Howard Clifford (BILL NIGHY) who's handed over most control of the company to his adult son, Roger (CHRIS GEERE), due to suffering from a degenerative disease.

Tim has no reason to think of that place until he receives word that his father has died in a mysterious car crash, something reiterated by Lt. Yoshida (KEN WATANABE). Upon visiting his father's apartment, Tim not only meets unpaid cable news network intern Lucy Stevens (KATHRYN NEWTON) who claims she was working on a story involving his dad at the time of his death, but also Pikachu (voice of RYAN REYNOLDS), his father's Pokémon partner. The extraordinary thing is that Tim and Pikachu can understand each other, but the latter can't remember anything about his past. Yet, since he was also reported dead, Pikachu convinces Tim that his father might be alive as well.

From that point on, and with the help of Lucy -- who's accompanied by her Psyduck Pokémon that could blow at any moment -- Tim and Pikachu try to figure out what happened to Tim's father and whether something nefarious is behind that, all while contending with a powerful and seemingly dangerous Pokémon known as Mewtwo.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's hard to believe it's been thirty-one years since "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" was released to the delight of both moviegoers and critics alike. Based on Gary K. Wolf's 1981 novel "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?" the offering not only featured groundbreaking and state of the art special effects, but also an engaging story stemming from a creative and fun premise.

And that was that cartoon characters were simply actors like their flesh and blood counterparts and possessed all of the same sorts of behaviors -- good and bad -- while living and working alongside humans in Toontown. With a murder mystery to solve and playing off and with an old 1940s era gumshoe vibe, the film was a huge hit and even won three Oscars (for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects).

I bring that up to start my review of "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" because it's what's going to come to mind to anyone who's seen the far better, definitely more imaginative and infinitely more entertaining Robert Zemeckis film. To be fair, had I been a diehard fan of all things Pokémon related, I might have enjoyed the offering more.

But not having kids at any point of any stages of the various Pokémon crazes (ranging from the beginning with the ravenous card collecting to the more recent "hunting" for them via the GO augmented reality mobile game), and with my only real exposure being the previous five Pokémon animated films that came out between 1999 and 2003 (the "best" of which scored only a 2 out of 10 artistic rating and none that I even remotely remember) I was operating with only superficial knowledge of this particular entertainment property.

I'm assuming the quartet of screenwriters -- Dan Hernandez & Benji Samit and Rob Letterman and Derek Connolly -- were at least a bit more familiar with all things Pokémon related, but there's no doubt they took some -- okay, a lot of -- inspiration from "Roger Rabbit." Here, humans and Pokémon live side by side in Ryme City, a high-tech metropolis created by tech mogul Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy, unfortunately constrained far too much for both himself and the part). But having a degenerative disease, his empire is run by his son, Roger (wait a minute) and there's little doubt one of them is going to be up to no good once the story kicks in.

That occurs when our protagonist, 21-year-old insurance appraiser Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) learns that his police detective father has been killed in a car crash, something we witness in the opening scene when the highly perturbed Mewtwo escapes confinement, gives chases to the detective's car, and sends it off the road via a well-placed blast.

Tim hasn't had anything to do with his dad for nearly a decade -- following the death of his mother when he was 11 and after which he gave up his desire to be a Pokémon trainer -- and thus heads to Ryme City to do the obligatory bit of cleaning out and closing up his late father's place. But an ambitious cable news intern, Lucy (Kathryn Newton), informs him that she was secretly working on a story involving dear old dad at the time of his death, and Tim then encounters his dad's Pokémon partner, Pikachu, who supposedly also died in the opening car crash.

Alas, the cute little yellow Pokémon can't remember anything from his past (the twist here is that he and Tim can understand each other) and thus it's up to Tim and Lucy (with Pikachu and her "he's going to blow at any moment" Psyduck Pokémon in tow) to solve the mystery.

The only problem -- at least for those without Pokémon fever or nostalgia flowing through their veins -- is that the storyline isn't that interesting or engaging and certainly isn't novel. Sure, director Rob Letterman ably handles the various moments and sequences of action, and the special effects are decent (but not stellar and clearly not groundbreaking like what occurred so long ago in the film's inspirational predecessor). And Ryan Reynolds adds some occasional fun providing the voice of Pikachu (although most of that feels like a PG version of his Deadpool character) but otherwise this just felt flat to me for most of the 104-minute runtime.

The exception -- and definitely the film's highlight -- is a sequence where Tim and Pikachu must contend with a mime Pokémon they're trying to interrogate, without much success. It's an inspired bit of fun and imaginative lunacy, the type of which should have been liberally applied to the rest of the film.

Alas, that's not the case and unless you're a diehard Pokémon aficionado or simply want to take a detour through nostalgia land from your childhood, you'll probably want to do your own mime thing and silently pull yourself away from the screen with an invisible rope. Not horrible, but clearly not as good at it could and should have been, and definitely making one think far too much about "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed May 6, 2019 / Posted May 10, 2019


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