The simplicity of Sonic the Hedgehog, a generic family-friendly action/adventure based on Sega’s flagship video game character, is both its saving grace and its downfall. It doesn’t overcomplicate the run-and-jump platformer source material by cramming in a ton of schlocky blockbuster lore (see 1993’s Super Mario Bros), but the script by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller is so by-the-numbers that it comes across as a Madlibs genre template with the infamous blue hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz) inserted as the kooky alien archetype. You know the drill: The alien, or creature from an alternate dimension, somehow ends up on Earth while escaping from bad guys in their home turf. The creature forces an alliance with a group of human characters who are reluctant to help it at first, but eventually build a strong bond with it. Which of course leads to an overblown special effects climax with the alien and human characters facing the bad guys together, teaching the kids a lesson on the importance of teamwork or something.
Sonic enjoys life in a world that’s conveniently designed for a hyper-fast anthropomorphized hedgehog who loves running on platforms while collecting gold rings. Enter nondescript evil creatures who want to capture Sonic for, uh, reasons. Sonic uses one of his gold rings to open a Doctor Strange portal to a small Montana town, where he hides for years until he figures out his next move. Overcome with loneliness, Sonic stalks Tom (James Marsden), the town’s wholesome sheriff who’s moving soon to join the San Francisco Police. Sonic pretends to be Tom’s best friend, even though Tom doesn’t know he exists. One night, Sonic’s running causes a countywide blackout. Unable to explain the phenomena, the government sends Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a loose-cannon robotics expert with a god complex, to crack the case. As soon as Robotnik gets a good look at Sonic, he makes it his mission in life to capture him, so he can perform his prerequisite bad guy experiments. Desperate to save his blue hide, Sonic convinces Tom to drive him to San Francisco so he can find his lost golden rings and escape to a garish dimension made up of giant mushrooms. (A “subtle” dig at Mario.) This unoriginal set-up leads to an even more unoriginal second act that takes turns between developing a bond between Sonic and Tom and narratively inconsequential PG action set pieces where Sonic uses his super speed to outrun Robotnik’s machine gun drones, which are clearly inspired by the vehicles his video game counterpart uses during boss battles.
To be fair, Tom and Sonic share a modicum of affable chemistry, aided heavily by Marsden’s natural charm as an everyman hunk. Their thematic arc follows the usual kid-friendly lessons about the importance of being there for the ones you care about and the aforementioned teamwork thing. The script doesn’t give the protagonists much to play with, but there’s at least some fun to be had with a handful of wacky sequences, one of which involves a good-ole fashioned saloon fight after Sonic’s mistaken for a hipster at a country bar. A major problem, though: Having a character who can essentially stop time because they can move so fast provides plenty of chances for a deus ex machina, but it also strips away tension and stakes. It’s hard to be fully invested in the danger that Sonic and Tom face when we know that no matter how hairy any situation gets, Sonic can use his powers to get them out of it.
Yet the movie’s real joy, if there is any, lies with Carrey fully embracing his ’90s rubberface days. Director Jeff Fowler makes the right decision by letting Carrey’s signature madness loose on such a vanilla scoop of family entertainment. Carrey chews the scenery until there isn’t a crumb left. Only he could get away with coming across as the true cartoon character in a film that has an actual cartoon character as its hero. May the comedy gods bless him for that.
Director: Jeff Fowler
Writer: Patrick Casey and Josh Miller
Starring: Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Adam Pally, Tika Sumpter
Release Date: February 14, 2020