“It could have been worse” isn’t exactly high praise, but when you’re reviewing “Sonic the Hedgehog,” it feels a bit like calling the film the second coming of “Citizen Kane.”
Because “Sonic the Hedgehog” – a video-game adaptation featuring a talking hedgehog, Jim Carrey at maximum Jim Carrey-ness, and some very public production problems– should have been a lot worse. Mediocrity feels almost miraculous in this case.
No, “Sonic the Hedgehog” is not great, but it also manages to be consistently watchable – enlivened by some cute animation, nice voice work by Ben Schwartz as the title character and some amusing chemistry between Schwartz and go-to straight man James Marsden.
Demanding, thought-provoking entertainment “Sonic” is not, but young kids and diehard fans of the video-game series will probably find something to love or at least chuckle at. Just keep your expectations as low as when you first saw that original now-jettisoned design of the hedgehog, and you’ll be just fine.
The opening minutes are actually fairly promising with a lovely animated prologue and an Amblin-esque opening as small-town cop Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) tries to make sense of the speedy blue blur he’s seeing all around town.
When Tom’s speed gun goes off randomly as Sonic flashes past, that’s good stuff – funny, quirky and mysterious.
Even when Sonic and Tom embark on an obligatory and not entirely sensical quest to find Sonic’s missing bag of golden rings, the film holds up well enough and is enlivened by the chemistry between Marsden and the digital hedgehog.
Marsden, in particular, is the film’s MVP. He’s essentially playing the same character he played back in “Hop” in 2011, but he knows how to deliver a dry one-liner or two.
Tom commenting on the bizarre randomness of his adventures with the hedgehog- “Hopefully I’ll wake up in a hospital bed and find out my colonoscopy was a big success.”
The redesign of Sonic has been mostly successful – he’s cute and cuddly enough to hug and Schwartz’s voice-over work captures the character’s indelible spunky charm.
The film works well enough until Dr. Robotnik (Carrey) enters the picture. Carrey definitely goes back to the basics of what made him famous here- quick-witted insults and puns, rubber-faced elasticity, quirky dance scenes – but he never seems particularly well-suited to the character or to the movie. He’s just off doing his own thing, and while he’s certainly energetic, he becomes manically grating after a while. Carrey is, as ever, an acquired taste, and that’s never been more true than it is here.
The “plot” is just 90 minutes of chase scenes. The “jokes” are largely of the topical but instantly dated Sonic-doing-the-floss-dance and Sonic-referencing-the find-my-phone-app variety.
For a film based on a video game, you would expect the script to tap into that vein with more than a single “bonus life” joke and an admittedly cool eight-bit credits sequence. Carrey’s not the only person wasted in this – Tika Sumpter, Neal McDonough, Adam Pally and Natasha Rothwell are all given regrettably little to do.
A culminating chase scene around the world – including the Great Wall of China and the pyramids- has some charm, but the frequent product placement and hinting at an inevitable sequel does not.
So, yes, “Sonic the Hedgehog” (rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language) could have been worse, and your kids may find it delightful. But while “Sonic” has its own modest charms, I don’t imagine most folks – this critic included- will be itching to go around those old loop-de-loops again any time soon.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.