'Ratchet & Clank': Film Review

The sound and the furry.

A spinoff from the successful game franchise of the same name, this animated work features the voices of Paul Giamatti and John Goodman.

Although probably faithful enough to appease hardcore fans of the game franchise it’s based on, animated feature Ratchet & Clank represents a resolutely middling effort when compared to other cartoon films on the market. Released first in France earlier this month, where it’s done mediocre-to-poor business, and now dodging its way through the release-schedule lulls between blockbusters in key territories as it makes its way to the U.S., the pic was never destined to rack up much theatrically. That doesn’t matter, because clearly the main point of the whole exercise is brand dissemination and building a new audience for the games.

In the film’s crushingly predictable origin story, big-eared, orange-furred “cat thingy” Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor, who voiced the character in the games) teams up with oddball robot Clank (David Kaye, also a returning talent). Variously aided and thwarted by an assortment of brightly colored but unappealing-looking secondary characters, the titular duo storm into battle to save various planets from destruction. The supporting cast spans a moral spectrum, with John Goodman-voiced father figure Grimroth at one end dispensing gravelly voiced advice to Ratchet and Armin Shimerman’s super-evil Dr. Nefarious at the other end of the scale.

Somewhere in between there’s Jim Ward’s chisel-chinned blowhard Captain Qwark, easily corrupted by evil dictator Drek (Paul Giamatti). Nefarious’ glaringly unoriginal character design, with his huge swollen head and malnourished body, looks like a genetic splicing of the hero from Megamind and the aliens from Mars Attacks! That said, at least he does smoothly deliver the film’s funniest line, while writing in his diary: “Dear journal: I am having the mood swings again. One minute I am laughing hysterically, and the next I’m laughing maniacally.”

The screenplay, credited to T.J. Fixman (he scripted the original games), Gerry Swallow and director Kevin Munroe (Dylan Dog: Dead of Night), scatters sarcasm and tired self-referential gags like buckshot. There’s just enough PG-friendly edge to make 7- to 9-year-olds feel like they’re watching something vaguely racy, but not enough wit or invention to entice tweens and teens, let alone generate word-of-mouth from gaming-averse adults.

Structurally, barring some basic introductions and backstories, the screenplay stages a tournament of fights leading to the big showdown, while the game-like graphics fetishize the variety of whimsical weapons in the characters’ arsenal. (The “sheepinator” particularly tickled the funny bone of the audience at the preview attended for this review, although even the elementary-school kids recognized the joke is a rip-off of the “-inator” gizmos Doofenshmirtz concocts on Phineas and Ferb.) In fact, although the labored irony, snark and the brainy (yet still catwalk-model-proportioned) female characters (voiced by Bella Thorne and Rosario Dawson) lend Ratchet & Clank a 2016 flavor, in the end it feels very much like a throwback to the mid-1990s, that halcyon age when “synergy” was the big industry buzzword and adaptations of computer games were all the rage. Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — they all rolled off the production line like jewel-cased discs. A product of the digital age where everything is just code that can be cut and pasted, Ratchet & Clank feels even less solid than any of the aforementioned. It’s just the cinema of algorithms, avatars and advertising slogans.

Production companies: A Lionsgate Vertigo Releasing, Rainmaker, Blockade Entertainment, Sony Computer Entertainment, Insomniac Games, Film Financial Services, CNHK Media, CMG production
Cast: James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, Armin Shimerman, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Bella Thorne, Rosario Dawson, Sylvester Stallone, Vincent Tong, Andrew Cownden
Director: Kevin Munroe
Co-director: Jerrica Cleland
Screenwriter: T.J. Fixman, Kevin Munroe, Gerry Swallow
Producers: Kim Dent Wilder, Brad Foxhoven, David Wohl
Executive producers: Richard Rionda del Castro, Delna Bhesania, Bryant Pike, Slava Vladimirov
Director of photography: Anthony di Ninno
Production designer: James Wood Wilson
Animation director: Ian Blum
Editor: Braden Oberson
Music:  Evan Wise for Jingle Punks Music
Casting: Ned Lott, Lana Carson

Rated PG, 94 minutes