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‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ runs amok

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It’s a bit of a Hollywood truism – video game movies are bad.

Unlike a lot of things that “everybody knows,” this is actually more or less true. That isn’t to say that they don’t make money – some do all right at the box office even when they’re terrible – but in terms of quality, they never measure up.

So it was with some obvious apprehension that I sat down to watch “Sonic the Hedgehog.” Considering the long and arduous road to release the film had – including extensive redesigns following the internet’s collective horror at the initial trailers – and the fact that I myself was always a Nintendo guy instead of Sega, it’s fair to say that my expectations were low.

Imagine my surprise when “Sonic” exceeded them.

Not by much, mind you – we’re not talking greatness here, to be sure – but still. This movie is … OK. It’s fine. And the reality is that “OK” and “fine” are words that have only rarely been associated with video game adaptions.

Sure, it’s all a bunch of dumb jokes and already-dated pop culture references, but the truth is that the target audience loves those things. Kids will dig it and adults will be able to tolerate it, which is no small thing. And there are occasional moments (all of which feature Jim Carrey cranking the weird to 11 and snapping off the knob) that are even better than that. For a movie that threatened to be an unhealthy dose of nightmare fuel, that’s a win.

So Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz, TV’s “DuckTales”) is a superfast alien living in hiding in the woods outside the small Montana town of Green Hills, having fled to Earth through a ring-based portal after being driven from his home by those who would exploit his gifts. The only respites from his isolation are the relationships he has invented with the residents on whom he spies from his hiding spots.

Chief among them is Tom Wachowski (James Marsden, TV’s “Dead to Me”), the local sheriff, who Sonic idolizes. The hedgehog has spent many a night outside Tom’s house, watching from the shadows and pretending that he is part of the lives of Tom and his fiancée, a veterinarian named Maddie (Tika Sumpter, “The Nomads”). Tom and Maddie have spent their lives in Green Hills, but a job offer in San Francisco might mean that a dissatisfied Tom gets his chance to be a “real” cop.

Meanwhile, Sonic’s loneliness leads to frustration, which in turn leads him to unleash his powers to an unprecedented extent. The energy released wreaks havoc throughout the region and brings Green Hills to the attention of the U.S. government, who send in the unhinged genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey, TV’s “Kidding”) to investigate.

Sonic is forced to flee the arrogant Robotnik and his drone army only to inadvertently reveal himself to Tom, who reluctantly agrees to help after an accident causes Sonic’s only means of escape to be lost. The mismatched pair are forced to make their way to San Francisco, with Robotnik and his many machines hot on their trail.

Even as the two butt heads and frustrate one another, Sonic and Tom grow gradually closer, but it isn’t long until the harsh reality of the situation becomes clear – with nothing but Sonic’s speed and Tom’s wits, they must overcome Robotnik’s overwhelming technological might.

Again, while “Sonic the Hedgehog” is one of the best video game adaptations we’ve seen, that by no means makes it a good movie. However, it isn’t a bad movie either, which is a quantum leap forward as far as this sort of film is concerned. Being able to sit through this without actively hating the experience was a nice change of pace.

The redesign – which meant that the film’s release was pushed back from November to now – was 100% worth it. The character transitioned from creepy to cute, allowing us to experience the warm nostalgia of our familiar speedy friend (as opposed to the existential horror of those all-too-human teeth). Visually, the film works well enough overall; it has a decent look. And while the narrative is thin and the jokes are kind of dumb, they’re no thinner/dumber than the majority of kid-oriented fare.

Schwartz is fine as Sonic; he’s got plenty of voice acting experience and has a history of playing this kind of hyperenergetic character. He’s having fun. Marsden is oddly wooden; some people are good at acting opposite the empty not-yet-CGI-filled space, but he doesn’t seem to have that knack. Sumpter is good, but she’s only in a handful of scenes. Adam Pally shows up in a weird supporting turn, while exceptional character actor/classic That Guy Neal McDonough is inexplicably here for a two-minute throwaway scene.

And then there’s Jim Carrey, who was apparently given carte blanche to be as weird and over-the-top as he saw fit. Honestly? It was kind of fun to watch. There’s something undeniable about Carrey on tilt; his lunacy is mesmerizing. He gnaws on the scenery literally every second he is on screen, screeching and chirping from behind a ridiculous mustache and seemingly having a great time. He simply does not stop. It’s a cartoony performance from a cartoony performer.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” is perfectly acceptable kiddie entertainment, which is a far superior outcome to what I anticipated. Again – not good, but not bad. And for a video game movie, that’s pretty good.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 February 2020 08:53

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