By Douglas Laman
Special to the Anna-Melissa Tribune
Sonic the Hedgehog is trapped - and not by his nemesis Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). No, the nefarious forces of generic filmmaking have captured this super-speedy rodent, who stars in a trite origin story before a pair of credits sequences promise fans of the source material a prospective sequel more faithful to the video games they love.
I don’t really care about Sonic’s fidelity to source material (I know little about Sonic outside of the original Sega Genesis games), but I do care how blatantly cynical the screenplay of this Sonic film adaptation is. This Jeff Fowler directorial effort spends much of its runtime just regurgitating all-too-familiar plot elements before plopping out a pair of paint-by-number credits scenes meant to cast aside negative memories of what you just saw with positive memories of what could be down the road.
In the here and now, we have “Sonic the Hedgehog,” which sees the wisecracking blue critter being stuck on Earth so that he can be protected from villains who want his powers. Forced to live alone, he’s developed a friendship with a local cop named Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) from afar. Sonic is forced to introduce himself to Tom once Dr. Robotnik starts searching for Sonic.
To evade this baddie, Sonic and Tom embark on a road trip to San Francisco to retrieve a bag of magical rings that can teleport Sonic to another planet. If there’s a commendable quality about “Sonic the Hedgehog,” it’s that it’s at least coherent. In bringing Pat Casey and Josh Miller’s screenplay to life, “Sonic the Hedgehog” flows decently from scene-to-scene. It doesn’t have a bunch of contrived subplots that overcomplicate matters, nor does it suffer from clumsy editing indicating haphazardly executed reshoots. While the screenplay doesn’t leave one’s head spinning or confused, it does come up short in creating something actually memorable. Sonic may label himself and Tom as “loose cannons” at one point, but the movie they headline always plays things safe.
The jokes, the character arcs, the settings (how many blockbusters have been set in San Francisco lately?), “Sonic the Hedgehog” always opts for such formulaic decisions. That really undercuts the potential fun you could have in a movie where Jim Carrey hunts down a humanoid blue rodent. Also a problem with the writing is the lack of urgency or weight to anything - even the elements of supposed danger driving the plot. At one point, Marsden’s Tom becomes a suspected terrorist wanted by the government, yet it doesn’t have much of an impact on anything. Tom still waltzes around in public with no problem.
Similarly, a third-act sequence where Robotnik chases Sonic through San Francisco sees buildings and cars exploding, but none of it means anything - they may as well be fighting in a plastic replica of the city rather than San Francisco itself. This chase scene reminded me of when Big Ben got off-handedly destroyed in “The Mummy” - it’s all just a bunch of noise and chaos without any sense of fun, or stakes that could make it fun. This lack of gravity deflates much of one’s interest in “Sonic the Hedgehog,” especially the ham-fisted attempts at sentimentality. Poor Marsden deserves so much better than just delivering cloying lines of dialogue against a CGI hedgehog. Although he can’t salvage the worst of the treacly emotional moments, Marsden fares fine overall in the lead performance.
Carrey, on the other hand, is doing a limp reheated version of his 1990’s comedy routine that makes one yearn for him to again try challenging material like “I Love You, Phillip Morris” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” While I didn’t care for Carrey’s work here, the audience at my screening ate up his turn as Robotnik, and also seemed to highly enjoy the overall movie.
Perhaps “Sonic the Hedgehog” will work for general moviegoers - certainly, I imagine, kids will like it fine. However, I just couldn’t help but walk away disappointed at what a routinely put-together endeavor this is. A song from the video game Sonic Adventures 2 features a lyric that announces, “Got places to go, gotta follow my rainbow.” Instead of a rainbow, the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie merely follows forgettable family movie formulas.