PLOT A boy and a creature team up to solve a mystery.
CAST Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Nighy
RATED PG (some peril and rude humor)
BOTTOM LINE Strictly for kids, though Reynolds’ one-liners should help hold adults’ attention.
If the only word you recognize in the title of “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is the middle one, you may face some comprehension challenges in this movie. Pokémon are the fanciful creatures of Japanese origin who populate card games, video games and animé, while Pikachu is one of their more adorable species. In this story, a very special Pikachu and a regular human boy team up to solve the case of a missing cop.
And that’s just the basics.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is the perfect potential franchise for the internet meme generation, a product that has been filtered through so many layers of popular culture that it no longer makes much sense. It’s the story of a boy and his animé pet (the voice of Ryan Reynolds), who’s fighting Marvel-style villains in a universe resembling the virtual-reality game in “Ready Player One.” With no origin story to help you out, your best approach to this material is to jump right in, enjoy Reynolds' wisecracks and ask the nearest child to explain the details.
Justice Smith plays Tim, a teenager whose father, a cop, has been killed. A trip to his dad’s apartment in Ryme City — one of those future metro areas where the streets are wet and the noodle shops steamy — leads to the discovery of Pikachu (Reynolds), a little yellow fuzzball with smiling eyes and a lightning-bolt-shaped tail. It seems Pikachu was also once a policeman (!), but he has a mysterious case of amnesia. In their search for answers, Tim and Pikachu will uncover a conspiracy and develop a classic buddy-cop bond.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” works mainly because of Reynolds, who gives Pikachu a range of tones and moods: hard-bitten, excitable, tender, macho. His default mode — flippant, the same one he uses in the “Deadpool” movies — isn’t the freshest, but Reynolds’ delivery is always solid. At crucial moments, Pikachu likes to tell young Tim, “You feel it in your jellies, don’t ya?” It’s a line both cute and slightly off-color, and Reynolds’ strikes the perfect balance.
Director and co-writer Rob Letterman (“Gulliver’s Travels”) plays everything straight — no winks — which turns out to be the right approach. Bill Nighy is a treat as an imperious, Rupert Murdoch-style media mogul, Howard Clifford, and Ken Watanabe is impressively solemn as a no-nonsense cop, Yoshida. (Kathryn Newton, as Tim’s love-interest, gets a little lost in the chaos.) Overall the movie is passably entertaining, though only the youngest viewers will feel it in their jellies.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is part of a genre with a mixed track record: the video game adaptation. Here are some examples of past hits and misses:
SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993) The unlikely duo of Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo played the title roles in this adaptation of the classic Nintendo game. Roundly panned by critics for its dopey plot (Dennis Hopper plays a villain named President Koopa), the film is widely considered one of the worst of all time. It earned $20 million, less than half its reported budget.
RESIDENT EVIL (2002) Capcom’s grisly zombie-survival game was a perfect candidate for the movie treatment; Milla Jovovich played the newly-created role of Alice, a warrior-heroine in a black bodysuit. The franchise lasted six films and took in more than $1 billion.
HITMAN: AGENT 47 (2015) Rupert Friend played the title role in a big-screen version of the IO Interactive game — a reboot, actually, of the poorly-received 2007 film. This one fared even worse, with a 9 percent rating on RottenTomatoes, though it did earn $82 million at the box-office.
THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016) The popular app became an animated movie with the voices of Jason Sudeikis (Red), Danny McBride (Bomb) and Josh Gad (Chuck). Critics gave it grudgingly decent reviews and the movie earned $352 million. — RAFER GUZMAN