“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” is one of over a dozen Pokémon movies, but it’s different.
Pikachu, rather than sounding like a cheerful, adorable toddler, is voiced by a snarky Ryan Reynolds.
His human counterpart isn’t baseball-capped trainer Ash Ketchum, but a lonely, morose young insurance salesman, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith).
The movie is set in a world that discourages catching and training Pokémon for fights. Yet even with this new attempt at non-violence, the movie somehow opts for frenetic chaos and calamitous noise.
It’s directed by Rob Letterman, whose “Goosebumps” had the same feel, leaving viewers more beat down than pumped up.
It would have been nice if there had been some actual mystery and some moody sleuthing; the movie races to burn through a plot that barely makes sense.
A corporate snake (Bill Nighy, turning his oozy sneer), has an evil plan that involves a genetically-engineered Mewtwo (an extra-powerful Pokémon, and the subject of the first Pokémon movie, released in 1999), purple gas and bait-and-switch.
It has left Tim’s estranged father presumed dead. Tim comes to Ryme City — where humans and Pokémon are supposed to be able to live in harmony — to wrap up loose ends.
He meets Pikachu, who has amnesia, and the ability to speak, but only Tim can hear him. Despite Tim’s reluctance, they team up to solve the puzzle, aided by a scrappy story-seeking unpaid news intern, Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Pokémon sidekick Psyduck.
“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” has its charm, and it’s not always from Reynolds. He’s full of funny-sounding quips, but the rhythm is so rushed, the jokes rarely have time to land.
One wonders if Reynolds felt strangled by the PG rating. He can’t be as naughty as he was in the R-rated “Deadpool” movies; this is closer to 2918’s disliked PG-13 re-edit “Once Upon a Deadpool.”
Nonetheless, Reynolds’ voice and caffeinated charm flow with the huggable Pikachu, the little yellow fellow with bunny ears, pink cheeks and supercool lightning tail who skitters and bounds. Reynolds and Smith have good chemistry; their performances add occasional small doses of feeling and nuance not necessarily in the script (assembled by at least five writers).
Other details offer a chance to stop and smell the roses, including a silly ride in Lucy’s absurdly small car, filled with “spa music,” the arrival of a crew of peaceful Bulbasaurs to help an injured Pikachu, and the fantasy cityscape filled with cameos by other Pokémon (including a blissfully sleeping Snorlax).
The massive Pokémon franchise, which began in 1995 with video games and includes cards, a TV series, comics and toys, is about collecting and amassing in addition to fighting.
There are sprinklings of friendship and tolerance carried over here. Aside from its Spielbergian search for father, “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” offers positive looks at mixed-race coupling and inter-species companionship — themes that, today, hit the spot like a well-thrown Pokeball.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy
Written by: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly, Nicole Perlman
Directed by: Rob Letterman
Running time 1 hour, 44 minutes