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With: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Rita Ora, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy
Written by: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly, Nicole Perlman
Directed by: Rob Letterman
MPAA Rating: PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements
Running Time: 104
Date: 05/09/2019

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is one of over a dozen Pokémon movies that exist today, but different. Pikachu, rather than sounding like a cheerful, adorable toddler, is now voiced by a snarky Ryan Reynolds.

His human counterpart isn't baseball-capped trainer Ash Ketchum, but a lonely, morose young insurance salesman, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith).

And, in fact, this new movie is set in a world that discourages catching and training Pokémon for fights. Yet, given this new attempt at peace and non-violence, the movie somehow opts for frenetic chaos, and calamitous noise.

It's directed by Rob Letterman, whose Goosebumps had the same feel, leaving viewers more beat down than pumped up.

It would have been nice if there had been some actual mystery in a story about detectives, and some moody sleuthing, but instead the movie races to burn through a plot that barely makes any sense.

A corporate snake (Bill Nighy, turning on that oozy sneer he has), has an evil plan that involves a genetically-engineered Mewtwo (an extra-powerful Pokémon, and the subject of the first Pokémon movie, released here in 1999), some purple gas, and some bait-and-switch.

This has left Tim's estranged father presumed dead. Tim comes to Ryme City — a place where humans and Pokémon are supposed to be able to live in harmony — to wrap up loose ends.

Instead, he meets Pikachu, who has amnesia, and the ability to speak, though only Tim can hear him. Despite Tim's reluctance, they team up to solve the puzzle, aided by a scrappy story-seeking unpaid news intern, Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), and her Pokémon sidekick Psyduck.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu has its charm, and it does not always come from Reynolds. He's full of funny-sounding quips, but the movie's rhythm is so rushed that the jokes rarely have time to land.

Moreover, one wonders if he must have felt strangled by the movie's PG rating. He's unable to be as naughty as he was in the R-rated Deadpool movies; this comes closer to last December's disliked PG-13 re-edit Once Upon a Deadpool.

Nonetheless, something about the combination of Reynolds's caffeinated charm and Pikachu's huggable form — the little yellow fellow with bunny ears, pink cheeks, and supercool lightning tail — and the way he skitters and bounds seems to flow with the actor's voice.

His onscreen chemistry with Smith really works. The two performances add occasional small doses of feeling and nuance that are not necessarily present in the script (which was assembled by at least five writers).

Quite a few other details offer a chance to stop and smell the roses amidst the hurricane of hoopla, including a silly ride in Lucy's absurdly small car, filled with "spa music," the arrival of a crew of peaceful Bulbasaurs to help an injured Pikachu, and the fantasy cityscape, filled with cameos by other Pokémon (including a blissfully sleeping Snorlax).

The massive Pokémon franchise, which began in 1995 with video games and now includes cards, a TV series, comics, toys, and more, has always been about collecting and amassing, in addition to fighting and violence.

But there have also been messages of friendship and tolerance sprinkled about, and those themes are carried over here. Aside from its Spielbergian search for father, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu offers positive looks at mixed-race coupling and inter-species companionship, themes that, today, hit the spot like a well-thrown Pokeball.

Warner Bros.'s Blu-ray release boasts superb picture and sound, in addition to bonus DVD and digital copies. Bonuses include "Detective Mode," a kind of pop-up commentary track that offers lots of tidbits for Pokemon lovers; a little interview with star Smith, a five-part behind-the-scenes featurette; an extended version of the opening sequence; a music video for "Carry On" by Rita Ora and Kygo; a "commentary" by Mr. Mime; and "Outside the Actor's Studio" with Ryan Reynolds, a funny look at the actor's immersion into his role. Audio is available in Dolby Atmos, Dolby 5.1, English descriptive, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and optional subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

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