If you can’t tell an Psyduck from a Charizard, or don’t know what happens when you throw a PokeBall, then Detective Pikachu wasn’t made for you.
This lackluster cinematic adaptation of the popular Pokemon video game essentially requires advanced familiarity with the mythology, since it’s unlikely to earn any new converts.
The hybrid of live-action and animation seems designed to ride the coattails of the recent popularity surge of the Pokemon brand in the social-media age, but like most games that have been turned into movies, it’s less fun to watch than it is to play.
The story takes place in Ryme City, a bustling fictional city created by a media baron (Bill Nighy) for humans and Pokemon to peacefully coexist. It centers Tim (Justice Smith), the estranged son of a private investigator who has disappeared and is presumed dead.
When he arrives to search for answers, Tim encounters Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), the loyal sidekick who insists that his boss is still alive. Meanwhile, Tim is the only human who can communicate with the diminutive motormouthed gumshoe, prompting the duo to probe a villainous scheme involving technological overreach and genetic experimentation.
Aside from the kid-friendly slapstick, the dialogue isn’t amusing enough to fill in the gaps. Smith (Every Day) has a charming screen presence, but the Pikachu’s nonstop barrage of sardonic quips is more annoying than endearing — despite the subversive Deadpool-style delivery of Reynolds.
As directed by Rob Letterman (Goosebumps), the film strips away the anime roots in favor of a showcase of computer-generated effects, building to a convoluted final showdown between good and evil. Plus, creatures meant to be cute and cuddly in animated form instead resemble creepy and obnoxious refugees from the Muppet reject bin.
Fans will recognize some of their favorite Pokemon in the background in what amounts to little more than a feature-length advertisement for plush toys, apps and games, and other multimedia offshoots.
For what it’s worth, Detective Pikachu is fairly reverent to its role-playing source material. Between the scattered laughs and thrills and easily digestible lessons of courage and teamwork, however, the noir-style mystery likely won’t be compelling enough for the target demographic. At least they’ll have their merchandise to keep them company.