Domo arigato, Dr. Robotnik.
The fleet-footed title character might be the animated one in “Sonic the Hedgehog,” but it’s Jim Carrey’s goggled, mustache-twirling villain Robotnik who’s the most cartoonish guy around. “Sonic” (★★ out of four; rated PG; in theaters nationwide Friday) takes their rivalry from the popular Sega video games to the big screen with so-so results as it mixes live-action comedy with CGI animals and some serious speed.
After fleeing his home planet (thanks to his world-hopping golden rings) when foes want to take his powers, alien critter Sonic ends up in Green Hills, Montana. A bit of an urban legend in town – the resident weirdos think they’ve seen a “blue devil” – Sonic enjoys hiding among the populace in his forest man cave (complete with Flash comics), helping at times but also having fun with local sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), whom Sonic deems “Doughnut Lord” for the sugary treats he munches.
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Tom is debating a dream job as a San Francisco cop when he has a chance meeting with Sonic rummaging around in his shed. The little blue dude’s magic rings accidentally (and rather fortuitously for the narrative) end up on a Bay Area skyscraper and Sonic, who laments his lonely life, jumps at the chance to go on a road trip with his new best bud.
At the same time, the government gets a whiff of Sonic’s abilities when he zooms so fast around a baseball diamond that he knocks out electricity for miles. Wanting to harness it for themselves, the authorities send for megalomaniacal genius Robotnik, who embarks on an obsessive mission to capture Sonic with his legion of high-tech drones.
The movie gives Carrey a chance to do something fresh and exciting with Robotnik, and he’s fun to a degree – dude’s still got some dance moves – yet so much of the character is a retread of his goofy greatest hits from “The Mask” and “Ace Ventura.” (On the plus side, kids who’ve never seen Carrey mimic a mouth with his butt cheeks like he did back in the ‘90s might find him a comedy genius in this.)
Marsden is a solid straight man to the self-assured, hyperactive Sonic, a fan of “Speed” and “Fast & Furious” references given fabulous and mischievous vocal life by Ben Schwartz. The new pals’ budding friendship leads to some of the movie’s best scenes, including a chaotic visit to a roadhouse bar where Sonic rides an electric bull.
While the sneaker-clad hedgehog is a cool character, his look and feel still seems like a work in progress. The first trailer for director Jeff Fowler’s family-friendly adventure took so much heat for its version of Sonic that had humanlike teeth and body proportions that didn’t match the game. The character was redesigned for the final film, and now sporting big eyes and a cuter aesthetic, the new Sonic looks better – and way less like nightmare fuel – but distinctly out of place amid the live action.
It’s like Sonic got stuck somewhere between hand-drawn “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” territory and the photorealistic “Lion King” animals, though there are some eye-popping sequences with him doing his speed-demon thing, especially a chase between Sonic and Robotnik that hits various international landmarks and uses the Great Wall of China as a racetrack.
The film is fine, familiar fare for gamers and children: Sonic sprints, Carrey mugs, but the creative juices run out quickly.