ST. LOUIS — Honest confession: I walked into Pokemon: Detective Pikachu without a clue of the world about how the game-for which this movie was adapted from-was created. None. Thankfully, my son knew all about it.
What I was aware of was the scoreboard for video game adaptations in Hollywood. Let's just say the prospects for this film didn't look good, because taking something from the digital world of gamers and making it with faithful taste into a film is a hard endeavor. Example: The director for the new Sonic: The Hedgehog film released a trailer, witnessed a huge uproar over the design of the character, and is now going back to the editing board.
So, how did Pikachu fare? I can't speak for the ambitious Red Bull chugging gamers who ran around their neighborhood searching for animated characters, but I enjoyed it. Mark this up as 90 minutes where I didn't feel like my time was being wasted and a little escapism enhanced my night. I laughed along with my kid, fell hard for the friendship tale between the young Tim Goodman (Justice "I'm not Will Smith's kid" Smith) and Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), and left thinking something in that film worked.
What the film centers on is the reluctant yet heartfelt and fun journey that Goodman and Pikachu go on in order to find out what happened to the human kid's dad. In this world, designed by Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), every human has a personal Pokemon, like an assistant to travel through life with. It's a idea for the two different species to not only live yet work together in a city Clifford created. We all know when this happens, though, imperfect people get ideas and things go awry. Hence, the search for Goodman's dad, who was a cop investigating illegal experimentation with the Pokemons.
What works is the voice work of Reynolds, who puts on a good PG coating on his Deadpool banter here as a Pokemon can, unlike the rest of his kind, talk and live like a human being. You get rabid moments where Pikachu's addiction to coffee takes over the investigation, and Reynolds' unique ability to deliver a criticism with a punchline is used very well. He's done this comedic language for years yet ironed out the kinks with his recent blockbuster as the cunning burnt to a crisp hitman. Here, it's settled down for kids to enjoy, but the adults will notice and appreciate the touches he places on the wannabe detective.
Smith is decent in his role, not adding much than action-adventure energy to various reactions in an easy to play role. The actor played a similar part in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and may get a chance to branch out later on in his career. He knows when to hold them or fold them in this role, mostly playing the foil to Reynolds' crazy and caffeinated lead character.
Bill Nighy is essentially the Bill Nighy you have come to expect, and that's fine. Ken Watanabe has the weirdest film selection palate at the moment, but he adds class wherever he goes, so he is a welcome sight here. Kathryn Newton mixes in very well as an ambitious reporter who aides the two central characters on their hunt for justice.
Technically, the film is fine without being extraordinary. The action scenes aren't going to blow anyone away, but get the job done in the film's climax, and the music is pretty much taken from the shelf of 50 previous animated film scores. The pacing is sound, with only a few watch checks during the running time. There isn't a lot of fat on the bone here, so while the film lacks a ton of substance, there is a fast-moving regimen moviegoers should respect.
The real rock of this movie is Reynolds, whose ability to turn a video game character into something funny and interesting is impressive and elevates the film. When you are starting to wonder if the movie can hold its ground, he does something to make you laugh.
Is this movie for Pokemon fanatics or casual fans of the game? Both. The director, Rob Letterman, doesn't overwhelm the movie lover or show disregard for the game addict here. The screenplay, which has four sets of hands on it, plants some Easter eggs for hardcore fans of the game to find out, and visually, I think the film fits the idea of a movie adaptation well. The creators of the game should be pleased.
Will I be writing about Pokemon: Detective Pikachu at the end of the year as a wildly innovative film that set the tone for the summer? No. Will I say future video game adaptations should watch and take a few notes on? Yes.
It's an enjoyable distraction for the entire family to experience on a rainy weekend afternoon.