Bock’s Office: ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ has electric visuals, but story is too grounded to crackle
If you thought the premise of plumber siblings battling dinosaurs was too far-fetched or a talking squirrel with a Sherlock Holmes hat was too self-aware, perhaps there’s a happy medium with a video game movie that promptly pumps the brakes when things get too creative.
And so we have “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
In the sleepy town of Green Hills, Montana, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) rarely has his hands full as the local lawman.
Upholding the position of sheriff, the busiest part of his day is directing traffic while a family of ducks crosses Main Street.
More than ready for a change, Tom is on the verge of accepting a new role as a beat cop in San Francisco as he and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) anticipate moving to the big city. When a massive electrical outage hits Green Hills and the majority of the Pacific Northwest, Tom isn’t too fazed by the lack of power.
That is, until he learns the reason for this phenomenon is right under his nose as he discovers a wise-cracking creature in his own garage.
The mysterious blue animal goes by the name Sonic (voice of Ben Schwartz) and is a super-speedster from another planet who has been living incognito on Earth for a decade.
While Sonic has been observing Tom and his circle of friends for years from a distance, the shocked sheriff has no clue why he’s been brought together with this unpredictable alien who seems to know everything about him and suddenly needs his help.
There’s also precious little time for the two to get acquainted as the United States government is most intrigued by the sudden electromagnetic pulse, sending an eccentric scientist (Jim Carrey) to investigate the incident.
Marsden seems to be Hollywood’s go-to guy when it comes to buddying up to computer-generated rodents, and like Pip the chipmunk in “Enchanted” and the Easter Bunny in “Hop,” he manages to make second fiddle look entertaining if nothing else.
As you’d expect, the only reason Tom is at all intriguing is his interaction with the extraterrestrial he’s suddenly partnered with, one who refers to him as “Donut Lord,” the result of watching the sheriff indulge his sweet tooth for so long.
Schwartz provides plenty of pow as Sonic, a planet-hopping fugitive with a love for humans and their pop culture who has avoided being found thanks to the unimaginable natural speed that led to him leaving his own world and holing up on Earth.
When you can zip along 300 miles per hour — if the reading from Tom’s radar gun is accurate — it’s only understandable that you could only read so many “Flash” comic books, give a terrified turtle a lightning-fast ride, or play ping-pong by yourself so many times before you decide to unleash your full running potential and build up a tremendous electrical occurrence.
Enter Dr. Robotnik, with Carrey in one of his hammiest character roles in years as a technical genius whose immeasurable intelligence is exceeded only by his arrogance with a belief that humanity is obsolete and he’s the one to lead the planet into a new age of machinery.
If only he had an infinite power source… Maybe one with pulsating electric quills and a pair of red sneakers?
The big screen adaptation of Sega’s signature video game character has been a long time coming, though fans were no doubt willing to wait a little past the planned Christmas release date after initial trailers showed Sonic’s mangled visage with less cartoony facial features.
If creators were willing to go back in and fix that, it’s curious that they didn’t want to add a few more minutes to the movie’s prologue, which gives the briefest of explanations for Sonic’s origin, something that might have been a good example of world-building, only for the story to be rushed along to put him on Earth.
Why would we want to know why he’s being raised by a giant owl and pursued by ninjas when we can watch Sonic watch a Keanu Reeves movie over someone’s shoulder?
Yes, “Speed.” Hysterical pun.
The gamers who grew up with this hedgehog may take or leave the latest turn in his chronology, since there’s already been animated works and plenty of entries in his video game history which spin a better backstory.
A target audience of younger kids seems more likely to be impressed by the narrative if not the variety of tech that Robotnik uses in his pursuit of our protagonist, although a lot of Carrey’s references will whiz right by them.
The fact that he looks like the end result of Joseph Stalin with a hipster mustache makeover also isn’t bound to land with many viewers.
With a long list of horrible video game movies preceding it, “Sonic the Hedgehog” is by no means the worst offender, though it lacks the “so bad it’s good” sense of irony as well as the nostalgia that makes some of its brethren worth watching.
Still, if this is the direction moviemakers want to go, the finale is an indicator that any inevitable sequels could get the footing right now that we’ve taken the first steps.
Well, Paramount, let’s get off and running!
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