Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog is better than it has any right to be. Movies based on video games are notoriously awful, in large part because what makes the games fun really doesn't translate to the screen, and what works on the screen isn't inherently found in games. Nonetheless, the filmmakers have found a way to adapt the popular Sega character that's generally pretty faithful to the source material while still making him work in the different format. It's a low bar to clear, but this is easily one of the best video game movies ever made.

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) journeys from his world to ours to evade potential captors. He ends up in a small town, where he encounters and seeks help from a local cop, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). One of his magic transportation rings has gotten lost atop a skyscraper in San Francisco, and the hedgehog simply doesn't know how to get there. He also needs to outrun Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a super-intelligent – and completely vicious – scientist the government has brought in to track him down after his super-speed powers cause an inadvertent widespread blackout. Tom reluctantly agrees, and the two embark on a peril-filled mission.

A guy and a fast-running hedgehog from another dimension make for a pretty goofy team. Sonic the Hedgehog knows that, so the movie does everything it can to indulge in clever shenanigans to play on this fact. An especially good scene, for example, finds Sonic quickly rearranging the objects and inhabitants in a biker bar when a fight breaks out, giving Tom the advantage over much bigger brawlers. Many of the interactions between the two characters are more sharply written than you'd expect, too. Instead of going the usual “clashing personalities” route, Tom is kind of in awe of Sonic's powers, and Sonic is admiring of the domesticity Tom has with wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). The approach allows for funnier, less obvious jokes, as well as a little bit of heart.

Action sequences in the picture are creative, as they are based around Sonic's abilities. There's a cool car/high-tech tank chase that keeps reinventing itself as it goes on, and a dizzying fight set atop a skyscraper. In each case, the title character's speed is required to survive. Most video game movies try to make their action beats feel like what'd you play if you had a controller in your hand. Here, the defining quality of Sonic is capitalized upon, yet put in a context that benefits the story rather than trying to merely replicate a game. It's a wise choice.

The other selling point is Jim Carrey. We haven't seen a lot of him onscreen lately, and we really haven't seen him in old-school broad comedy mode in years. He's hilarious as Dr. Robotnik, bringing his trademark rubbery physicality to the role. Certain moments were clearly designed around his comedic style, most notably a bit in which Robotnik does a dance of evil. Carrey elevates the whole film with his energy.

Sonic the Hedgehog is obviously fluff, but it's fun fluff. I like that the movie lacks the cynicism one often finds in video game movies. They're not just trying to sell games, they're trying to entertain families with a character that has been popular for a couple generations. Thanks to better than average writing and a terrific Jim Carrey, the film succeeds as all-ages entertainment.

out of four

Sonic the Hedgehog is rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.