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It takes no effort to figure out the appeal of Pokemon. Who doesn't love a big yellow mouse who can shock his enemies or a lizard with a tulip bulb on its back. (Perhaps they'd be even more likable if they didn't repeat their names constantly, "Pikachu, Pikachu, Pikachu" over and over, presumably as advertising prompts.)

So it's no wonder Ryan Reynolds is lending his voice to Pikachu. Reynolds' one-liners are an undeniable improvement over the constant, monotonous repetition of Pikachu's name that dominated the cartoons in the 1990s and early aughts. New-and-improved Pikachu is still hopelessly cute, and Reynolds has managed to tone down his snappy bon mots for an audience that is far too young to be watching Deadpool. It also helps that Pikachu isn't alone in trying to solve an unexplained death.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

81 Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Josette Simon, Alejandro De Mesa, Rita Ora

Director: Rob Letterman

Rating: PG, for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) has come to Ryme City to pick up some items from his late father's apartment. Tim's dad Harry was a cop and alienated his son by obsessively training Pokemon. In Ryme City, that's not so unusual because everyone in the town except for Tim is paired with an animal that fits no real-world taxonomy.

It turns out that Pikachu isn't wearing a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker for show. He was Harry's partner, and the two had discovered vials of a mysterious purple gas called "R," which makes Pokemon behave as if they've gone on a meth binge.

Tim finds himself having to retrace his dad's investigation, in part, because Pikachu has a big mouth but no memory of anything before Harry's death.

There is, however, a struggling intern (Kathryn Newton) who'd like to be a reporter and seems to know more about the situation than the senior policeman (Ken Watanabe, in full gravitas mode) on the case. If Tim depends on Pikachu to get through the complicated environment of Ryme City, the Pokemon needs Tim because he's the only human who can hear anything but "peek-a-chu" coming from his mouth.

The story makes some sense, which puts it ahead of the earlier 2D cartoons. The creatures' powers and weaknesses don't have clear definitions, but at least we don't have a narrator telling us what we were supposed to learn from the story because the tale itself makes no sense.

That said, director Rob Letterman seamlessly incorporates Pokemon and people as if the union were mundane. Throughout the movie, lifelike animals who've never existed outside of the trading cards, videogames or cartoons walk with humans as if it's no big deal to do so.

The filmmakers use a combination of puppetry and CGI to realize Ryme City, and it looks more convincing than computer images alone. The city itself has an appropriate noir-ish look that seems suited for a mystery but isn't likely to traumatize any youngsters.

While the efforts to bring Pokemon to life are successful, the human thespians sometimes struggle to keep up with their furry, feathered and scaly co-stars. Watanabe and Billy Nighy (as Ryme City's founder) seem overqualified for their sadly brief roles. Reynolds gets the juiciest part in the film, even if he's simply the voice of an adorable furball.

MovieStyle on 05/10/2019

Print Headline: MOVIE REVIEW: Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

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