Ah, video game movies. Though there isn't nearly a robust enough catalogue of console-to-screen adaptations to comprise a legitimate genre, there have been enough for us to know they're often, at best, ill-advised attempts to bridge two very different art forms. At worst — e.g., "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter" — they've provided a playground for Paul W.S. Anderson's atrociously-edited schlock to run rampant.
When the first trailer for "Sonic the Hedgehog" premiered last spring, outlook was bleak even by video game movie standards. Not only was it woefully unfunny and awkwardly soundtracked by Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," but the computer-generated design of Sega's flagship character was hauntingly, unforgivably bad, giving him creepily humanoid features sure to permeate the nightmares of the movie's key demographic.
So imagine my surprise when, almost a year later, I leave the theater legitimately delighted by the Sonic flick we finally got. Yes, the animators completely altered the titular speedster's design, a worthwhile effort that pushed the release date back several months. But that aside, this is a breezily entertaining and quite often hilarious time at the movies, with plenty more heart than one might expect from a film that could easily be dismissed as soullessly unnecessary.
"Sonic the Hedgehog" is, in many ways, your standard fish-out-of-water story — if the fish were a blue, anthropomorphic, quill-covered creature who can run 300 mph and generate electricity while doing so. A decade after being forced from his home planet into hiding on Earth, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) finds himself in deep trouble after accidentally wiping the entire Pacific Northwest of its power supply. On the run from the feds and an unhinged scientist named Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) while trying to escape to a new home, he finds help and, eventually, his first real friend in a friendly small-town cop (James Marsden).
The plot machinations are super predictable, sure, but the humor and soulfulness that punctuate them are often gleeful and — thanks to a few adult-oriented cracks that will probably fly over kids' heads — sometimes shockingly so. Though only one of them is visible on-screen in corporeal form, Marsden and Schwartz click splendidly, engaging in snappy repartee and sincere heart-to-hearts that clearly took more than a little thought to conjure. Sometimes the dialogue is wincingly bogged-down by gratuitous pop-culture references and consumer product shout-outs (I'm curious how much of the movie's budget came courtesy of Olive Garden), but there's plenty of good going on around them to distract.
And, of course, Jim Carrey makes the most of his long-awaited return to manic form as Robotnik, employing every facial muscle, vocal inflection and bodily contortion necessary — and, let's be real, sometimes unnecessary — to make his mustache-twirling villain as maniacally fun to watch as he can. Most of the big laughs are thanks to his impeccably twisted line delivery, every word oozing with the relish of being back in his element.
"Sonic the Hedgehog" isn't quite original enough to call a "breath of fresh air," nor is it confident enough to be as self-contained as it could have been. But for those hoping to see an enjoyable, family-friendly romp or a video game adaptation that's actually better than just OK, it's sure to satisfy.
John Battiston is a Times-Mirror reporter and founder of the Reel Underdogs podcast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reel Underdogs is not affiliated with the Times-Mirror.