Who is Sonic the Hedgehog for? What is the target audience for a film that wants to take its cues from Deadpool but also family films about the Easter Bunny? Ostensibly, children should want very badly to see this movie adaptation of the long-running Sega video game about an extremely fast blue animal. But Sonic the Hedgehog can’t figure out if its audience is the parents of those children — those of us who grew up with the first iteration of Sonic — or kids themselves. The result is what may be one of the last acts of a desperate movie studio, so intent on mining intellectual property for all it’s worth and unable to realize they’ve hit the bottom of the barrel.
The plot of Sonic is nonsense, understandably. As a youngster, Sonic is told to hide on Earth by his surrogate mother, a protective owl (because…sure, why not), so faceless bad guys will not capture him and take away the power built into each of his blue spikes. Sonic lives peacefully, but with growing loneliness, for a decade on Earth in a small Montana town called Green Hills. Sonic hides out near the local sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), and his wife (Tika Sumpter), essentially acting like their invisible child as they relax at home and have movie nights where they watch films like Speed and The Naked Gun. (Don’t insert clips of very entertaining movies inside the movie you’re making. The last thing you want is to remind me that I could be watching something better right now.)
Eventually, Sonic’s loneliness gets the best of him and he inadvertently causes a massive power outage. This alerts the U.S. government to something strange in the Pacific Northwest, which leads them to (for no good reason, as the film all but admits) call in the very strange and very smart Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate. Robotnik very quickly reveals himself to be power-mad and insane, and hellbent on catching Sonic. So it’s up to Tom and Sonic to escape his clutches, and get Sonic far away from Earth as fast as possible.
Sonic the Hedgehog created a lot of unwanted headlines last year, when its first trailer was unveiled and the online world was understandably horrified at what the CG version of Sonic looked like. Paramount Pictures went to extreme lengths after the initial calumny and scorn — they delayed the film’s release by a few months, and attempted to fix the problem. So here’s the good news: Sonic no longer looks like the kind of nightmare fuel that came straight out of the recent Cats adaptation. The CG isn’t ever fully believable — Marsden, as gifted an actor as he is, sometimes seems like he’s looking a foot above Sonic’s head when interacting with the blue dude — but it’s not horrifying.
Where this movie struggles is in its frequent humor, or desperate attempts to be funny. It’s for lack of talent, of course. Fans of Ben Schwartz’s performance as Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation, or his many appearances on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, may have high hopes that are quickly dashed. His Sonic talks a mile a minute, narrating his story with a snarky, hip, been-there-done-that vibe that reflects what happens when a punch-up room full of comedy writers try their hardest to get at least one of their one-liners in the script. (Worse still: Schwartz’s one-time late-night talk-show partner Adam Pally appears as a fellow Montana cop, and manages to barely create a single laugh.)
Carrey acquits himself slightly better, in his first major role in over five years. But even his take on the manic Dr. Robotnik feels less like a real character, and more like the studio saying, “Well, we paid Jim Carrey a lot of money, so let him do whatever he wants, damn the consequences”. Put it this way: if you like Jim Carrey’s work and want to see him play a strange bad guy in a family film released by Paramount Pictures, watch Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, a very underrated film indeed.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a movie that references Olive Garden twice, and does so with nary a wink at the camera. I could start and end the review with that sentence, because what more do you need to know? Either you will enjoy a movie that not only plugs Olive Garden, but has two characters quote its slogan, and have another character shill for one of their menu items without quoting 30 Rock and looking at the camera, asking “Can we have our money now?” Humor is subjective, of course. You may enjoy the preponderance of pop-culture references in this film is nonstop, even during action sequences. You may laugh, for example, when some of Dr. Robotnik’s drones attack Tom’s house, Sonic tries to wrestle one to the ground, shouting, “Can you believe Amazon wanted to deliver packages with these?”
But I submit that Sonic the Hedgehog is exhausting. Here is a film that refuses to stop making quips, somehow pulling off the unique feat of never making any of those quips funny. Marsden and Carrey are about as good as you can hope for in a film like this, in part because there’s always a distinct look in their eyes that communicates a weary sense of awareness, that it’s come to this. (How the hell is it that, after his hilarious supporting role in Enchanted, Marsden has been given roles like “Straight man to a talking blue hedgehog?”) Sonic the Hedgehog did fix its CGI. So yes, this could have been worse. But when this movie’s release was delayed, they should have spent three more months on the script.
/Film Rating: 3 out of 10
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