'Pokemon Detective Pikachu': Film Review

The ridiculously persistent craze just got a little crazier.
5/10/2019

The agreeably glib voice of Ryan Reynolds lends the titular canary-yellow fuzzball some welcome edge in this live-action/animated feature.

Those anticipating another Golden Raspberry-worthy contender like last year’s The Happytime Murders, another spoof of classic pulp fiction, can park their preconceived notions at the door.

It turns out Pokemon Detective Pikachu isn’t half bad.

Set in Ryme City, a neon-soaked experimental world in which humans and Pokemon co-exist in relative harmony, the truly trippy production has its fitfully entertaining charms. There were a couple of telling clues that pointed in that direction, primarily the welcome presence of Ryan Reynolds, who has brought a generous sampling of his sardonic Deadpool sensibility to the voicing of the title role.

Then there’s the behind-the-camera talents of the production’s director and co-writer Rob Letterman, who previously did R.L. Stine justice with the first Goosebumps feature outing, again tossing together dry humor, nostalgic sentimentality and a healthy visual effects budget to workable effect, even if those elements never actually coalesce.

Still, there’s enough here to please both Pokemaniacs and the Poke-non, which should translate into a nice chunk of Pokemon-ey (sorry) for Warner Bros. when the movie arrives on North American shores on May 10, a week after its Japanese bow.

Taking many of its plot points from the 2016 Nintendo game of the same name, the storyline is centered around Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), the affably nerdy 21-year-old son of a private investigator who is believed to have perished in a suspicious car crash. Upon arriving in Ryme City, the sprawling metropolis that was the scene of his estranged dad's crime-solving, Tim encounters his former partner, a hard-boiled, coffee-guzzling fuzzy yellow Pikachu (Reynolds) who happens to speak perfect noir English that only Tim can hear.

Determined to get to the truth behind the elder Goodman’s disappearance, Tim and Det. Pikachu embark on a trek through Ryme City’s seedier backstreets, following a cloud of dense purple smoke that will lead them to a top secret research facility that figures into Harry’s possible demise.

Along the way, they encounter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an ambitious intern of a cub reporter, as well as Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), the Richard Branson-like visionary behind Ryme City whose spoiled son, Roger (Chris Geere), serves as the over-reaching president of Clifford Enterprises. Of course, they also run into all manner of Pokemon, from Bulbasaurs to stressed-out Psyducks to, in one of the more amusing sequences, an especially annoying mime Pokemon.

Although the script, credited to Letterman along with Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit and Derek Connolly, from a story by Nicole Perlman, tends to compartmentalize the comedy, action and emotional bits rather than organically blending them all together, Letterman’s energetic direction manages to hold everything aloft.

Providing a sturdy throughline is Reynolds, who imbues his world-weary Pikachu with the right balance of pith and pathos, while Justice does justice to his necessarily reactive performance, proving adept at both tears and pratfalls.

Credit production designer Nigel Phelps and visual effects outfits Moving Picture Company and Framestore for taking it into FX overdrive, most notably a ground-breaking (literally) set-piece shot in Scotland, involving computer-controlled hydraulic rams covered with soil and foliage.

Try finding that on Pokemon GO!

Production companies: Legendary Pictures, The Pokemon Company, Toho Company
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy, Rita Ora
Director: Rob Letterman
Screenwriters: Dan Hernandez & Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly
Producers: Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Hidenaga Katakami
Executive producers: Joe Caracciolo, Jr., Ali Mendes, Tsunekazu Ishihara, Kenji Okubo, Toshio Miyahara, Hiro Matsuoka, Koji Ueda
Director of photography: John Mathieson
Production designer: Nigel Phelps
Costume designer: Suzie Harman
Editors: Mark Sanger, James Thomas
Composer: Henry Jackman

Rated PG, 102 minutes