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POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU

Reynolds Rap Better Than Contents

Ryan Reynolds
Ryan Reynolds
Warner Brothers
 104 Minutes
Rated: PG
Directed ByRob Letterman
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith    
D+
Pokemon Detective Pikachu

Discuss most film genres, and you’ll get a considerable debate about what was the best film ever in that genre. There’s no consensus about the best Western or musical of all time. However, in one particular niche, that of the live action/animation mashup, there’s no debate whatsoever about what was the greatest all-time example of the admittedly specific genre—Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But this week, we have a new contender for the title, Pokemon Detective Pikachu, which boasts an international video game pedigree and the considerable vocal talents of Ryan Reynolds. Sadly, those assets aren’t enough to produce a coherent movie that adults will feel comfortable sitting through.

 

First, I must provide a disclaimer. I am not in the target demographic for Pokemon Detective Pikachu, a group that I think consists mainly of diehard video game fans and people born in the 21st century. Further, my knowledge of the Pokemon franchise, in general, is limited to seeing a variety of posters and video game box covers, along with reading a Wikipedia article on the subject after seeing the film. But I have a feeling that, even if I had been brought up on a steady diet of Pokemon, I would have been rather unimpressed by this movie.

 

For those out there besides me who are Pokemon novices, the word refers to an enormous army of weird-looking creatures who have weirder powers and who are captured by video gamers and then matched in combat against each other, supposedly because it’s entertaining to watch and control weird-looking creatures as they use their weirder powers in battle. In the world of Ryme City, the setting of Pokemon Detective Pikachu, humans and Pokemon live in harmony, forming symbiotic pairings, and creature combat is outlawed, except for some underground cage matches. Of course, things aren’t quite as blissful as they seem, and there’s a secret laboratory out in the middle of nowhere in which scientists are conducting secret experiments involving zapping Pokemon with zillions of volts of electricity to see what happens. Private eye Harry Goodman spies on the laboratory and sees the experiments, but before he can get back to Ryme City, he is killed in a mysterious car crash.

 

Soon afterward, Harry’s estranged son Tim (Justice Smith) goes to Ryme City to pick up his father’s personal effects, but Tim instead meets Harry’s partner, Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Pikachu tells Tim about Harry’s death and persuades an initially reluctant Tim to continue the investigation. Tim soon joins forces with Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a TV station intern looking for the big story that will get her noticed as a reporter. In going through Harry’s belongings, Tim discovers a canister of gas that, when released, turns the normally placid Pokemon into vicious monsters. Tim tries to track down where Harry got the canister and soon determines that the mysterious substance is somehow tied to the wealthy father and son pair of Howard (Bill Nighy) and Roger Clifford (Chris Geere), the industrialists who founded Ryme City.

 

It’s fairly apparent in watching Pokemon Detective Pikachu that director Rob Letterman and an assortment of screenwriters wanted this movie to be an updated version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit but they fall far short of the mark in every aspect except one. The single asset that the new movie possesses is the considerable talent of Ryan Reynolds, who trots out a lot of the same rapid-fire quips here as he does in the Deadpool movies. Unfortunately, both the structured nature of the animation process (which makes Reynolds’ ad-libbing more difficult) and the PG rating work against him. As a result, his character’s early scenes, in which he trades banter with a befuddled Justice Smith one-on-one, are often quite funny. Later on, however, Detective Pikachu gets caught up in a surprisingly serious and increasingly convoluted storyline, and the opportunities for humor are few and far between.

 

Other than Ryan Reynolds, there is little that’s amusing about Pokemon Detective Pikachu. Many of the creatures are cute, but the effect is similar to looking at a still picture of a kitten. After a few seconds, the cuteness wears off with nothing to replace it. My unfamiliarity with the Pokemon characters may have handicapped me here. The creatures are all popular parts of the Pokemon universe, each with distinct powers with which fans of the franchise are very familiar. I was operating entirely in the dark, however, occasionally seeing a creature use some sort of superpower without explanation, following which I still wasn’t sure what happened. The only Pokemon character other than Pikachu to get substantial screen time is Psyduck, a character who looks like Porky Pig with yellow feathers and a beak. Psyduck is Lucy’s Pokemon, and its “power” is that if it gets upset, it explodes. I’m still trying to figure out why anyone would want to be in the same room with such a beast. The film attempts to turn Psyduck’s explosive tendencies into a running gag involving often frantic but never the slightest bit humorous efforts to keep Psyduck calm.

 

Pokemon Detective Pikachu has action, a lot of action, but it’s mostly very confusing, in large part because it involves computer-animated creatures with poorly defined (as far as the audience is concerned) powers. It also has an extremely convoluted mystery plot, one that could easily have befuddled Raymond Chandler, let alone the pre-teens who seem to be the target audience for the movie. Of course, they won’t care if they don’t understand the plot as long as they get to see lots of creatures flying around and hitting and blasting each other. Adults tend to be a bit more demanding, and what they get will bring to mind the worst excesses of animated movies.

 

Ryan Reynolds is fortunate that he didn’t have to show his face during Pokemon Detective Pikachu, but his veteran co-stars Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy have no such luck. Both appear acutely embarrassed to be seen, and neither delivers anything more than a paycheck performance. In fact, the entire movie seems nothing more than one last attempt at a cash grab for a franchise that isn’t nearly as popular as it was a decade or two ago. Ironically, this type of movie could have succeeded better then, but too many similar and better productions over the years have relegated this to the status of a misguided flop. There’s no need for any detective work here; Pokemon Detective Pikachu is dead on arrival.

In this featurette, Ryan Reynolds discusses preparing for the role of playing Detective Pikachu.

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Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) on IMDb

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