Super furry animals game for a laugh
But even a hilarious performance from Ryan Reynolds can't save this bonkers CGI fantasy, says Paul Whitington
What's a pokemon? Good question, and one that's likely to have anyone born after, say, 1990 throwing their eyes to heaven. These imaginary creatures are at the heart of a giant Japanese video game and anime franchise founded in 1995 by a game designer called Satoshi Tajiri, who's a similar age to me, but significantly richer.
Inspired by his childhood passion for collecting insects, Tajiri dreamt up Pokemon, a mainly lovable species of 'pocket monsters' that come in all shapes and sizes, and are often forces for good.
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Humans caught and possessed them by throwing Poke balls at them: rather sadistically, their owners in the original video games staged Pokemon battles that reminded one of dog fights. In the manga, TV shows and animated movies that followed, things became more nuanced: different breeds of pokemon emerged, more than 80, who are often wiser - and kinder - than their human owners.
That's certainly the case in this rather frantic family fantasy, set in the fictitious city of Ryme. Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a lonely 21-year-old who's fallen out of love with Pokemon, comes to the hi-tech city after his father dies. Harry Goodman was a seasoned police detective, who died after his speeding car spun out of control. But Tim is conflicted about his passing, as he hadn't seen his estranged dad for years. When Harry's colleague Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) gives him the keys to his father's apartment, Tim goes there to sort through the dead man's possessions. He's thumbing through the mementoes when he hears a thump in the living room and finds a Pokemon cowering in the corner. It's a Pikachu, a small, playful, squirrel-like Pokemon which carries a powerful electrical charge - disconcertingly, its tail is electric bolt-shaped.
This one (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) fancies itself a master detective, but the strangest thing of all is that Tim can understand every word it says.
Normally, humans have no idea what Pokemon are on about, but Tim hears loud and clear as the self-styled 'Detective Pikachu' expounds a bizarre theory.
He was Harry's Pokemon, and he's convinced that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Tim's dad is not dead at all. His disappearance, the Pikachu reckons, relates to a case Harry was working on involving the city's visionary founder Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) and his ruthless son Roger (Chris Geere), who may be up to something fishy.
Tim thinks the creature is nuts and tries to give it the slip, but the Pikachu's persistence begins to win him over, especially after they meet a glamorous young TV reporter who's also investigating Harry's disappearance. Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) works for a TV network run by the Cliffords, but smells a rat and is also convinced Harry was targeted because he was on to something big. So she, Tim, the Pikachu and her Pokemon team up to solve the mystery.
Colourful, sickly, needlessly convoluted, Detective Pikachu is busy to the point of madness, starts off at a fair old pelt and never pauses for breath. It is, of course, on one level a ghastly exercise in product placement. Ever since Hasbro joined forces with Paramount to turn the plotless, contextless Transformer toys into a deafening and very successful movie franchise, toy and game makers have been queueing up to create similar film series that will help flog more merchandise. In fairness to Detective Pikachu, it's a bit better than the mainly dreadful animated Pokemon movies that have preceded it, and does boast an actual plot. In fact, its storyline is as convoluted as The Big Sleep's, and may well test the patience of the junior audience at whom it's presumably aimed. Its big strength is the voice performance of Ryan Reynolds, who brings his usual smart-ass gas-bag sensibilities to bear.
Pikachu is a rather cynical big city Pokemon, who's addicted to coffee and has the swagger of a film noir detective. A lot of what he says is funny, but in the end, he says too much. The suave talents of Bill Nighy are squandered, and the puppy love story between Tim and Lucy is a little undercooked.
Heavy-handed Cgi washes through this frenetic feature, overwhelming it in the inevitable climatic battle. It has a certain charm but, overall, felt a bit like watching Scooby Doo on acid, a sensation I would not recommend.