SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Toby Ascher, Toru Nakahara and Takeshi Ito   Director: Jeff Fowler   Screenplay: Pat Casey and Josh Miller   Cast: Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter, Lee Majdoub, Adam Pally, Natasha Rothwell, Neal McDonough and Frank C. Turner   Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Grade:  C

If you’ve been longing for Jim Carrey to go back to his supremely goody roots—the days of “In Living Color” and “Ace Ventura”—you might check out this long-gestating live-action feature based on the video-game phenomenon that began in 1991 and has since run through animated TV series and comic books.  As the villain of the piece, a super-arrogant scientist called Robotnik, he hearkens  back to the weird, wild, manic moves of his breakout period, and the nostalgia factor works to his benefit.

He’s certainly the best thing in the movie, which is otherwise pretty standard “family” fare in the low-rent “E.T.” mode.  Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is a speedy blue hedgehog from another world who’s been spirited to earth by his protector, a wise owl, to escape his enemies.  Carrying a bag of magic rings that can take him to other realms if necessary, he’s settled outside the small Utah town of Green Hills where he’s become a keen observer of the locals, most notably police chief Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), a nice fellow who’s applied for a job with the force in San Francisco, and his supportive wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), a veterinarian. 

All is well—except for one cranky old coot, Crazy Carl (Frank C. Turner), who swears Sonic exists—until Sonic causes a massive power outage that brings in the feds to investigate, chief among them the intense Robotnik, a scientific genius, and his put-upon assistant (Lee Majdoub).  By the time Robotnik uses his tracking devices to isolate Sonic’s location, the blue alien has made friends with Tom, who agrees to drive him to the San Francisco skyscraper atop which—for reasons that won’t be explained here—the creature’s bag of rings has wound up.  Naturally Robotnik is in close pursuit.

The adventures the duo have along the way are pretty much of the pro-forma variety, the most notable being a protracted stay at a western-themed bar which, to no one’s surprise, turns into a big brawl.  Much of the rest of the picture consists of sequences in which they evade Robotnik, who along the way becomes obsessed with siphoning off Sonic’s power so that he can use it to conquer the world, or something,  Naturally it all winds up with a major battle in the streets of San Francisco and a happy ending back in Green Hills, where the population is happy to welcome back both Tom and Sonic. 

Schwartz’s energy can get a mite excessive at times, and Marsden seems a little tired, which is understandable since he went through much the same sort of stuff with “Hop” back in 2011, playing against a CGI character (perhaps he should have a talk with his agent).  But Carrey turns up periodically to enliven things with his over-the-top shtick.  Sumpter is fine, though a curious subplot involving her sister (Natasha Rothwell), who has an obsessive dislike of Tom and insists that Maddie should divorce him (occasioned, perhaps, by the fact that she seems to be a single mom herself) comes out of left field.  Majdoub gets a few decent moments as Robotnik’s put-upon right hand man, and Adam Pally does his best with the stock  part of Tom’s befuddled deputy.

The animation in “Sonic” is adequate if hardly cutting-edge, and the same can be said of the effects in general.   Otherwise the technical aspects of the picture are okay, though Stephen F. Windon’s camerawork can be glaring at times.

Nonetheless except for Carrey’s nutty exuberance, “Sonic” offers little even the smallest kids won’t have seen before, and certainly nothing their parents will find particularly amusing—though one can note with approval that at least it doesn’t include any songs.