Not to put too fine a point on it, but “Sonic The Hedgehog 2” really cannot be the swan song for the great Jim Carrey. One of the great comedic careers of recent years cannot end on such a whimper. The star is, of course, free to pursue what makes him happiest, as he’s indicated on the film’s press tour. But it would be a real shame to cap off with a work that so thoroughly misunderstands his unique gift for bodily humor.
Even though Sega’s most iconic character is best-known for his supersonic speed, Jeff Fowler’s “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” cares little to mine physical gags from its central blue ball of energy. Instead, the writers cater the film to the strengths of his voice artist Ben Schwartz and turn Sonic into a verbal quip machine. It’s at least a committed direction for the character, amusing and exhausting in equal measure. (One line of fan service for those who loved Schwartz’s Jean-Ralphio on “Parks & Recreation” will go a long way for those who pick up on it.)
But the film forces everyone involved to play on that pun-heavy playing field, and it does a disservice to those whose talents lie elsewhere. Carrey is at sea reprising the villainous Robotnik because the only contortions the film wants him to make are with his tongue. For most of “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” all Carrey can do is twirl his cartoonish mustache while spouting off yet another family-friendly zinger. He’s reduced to little more than a dialogue delivery machine, and it’s tough to watch him chew through a role while having to keep his most distinctive skills largely in check.
The Carrey problem in “Sonic The Hedgehog 2” speaks to the larger issues with this series’ second installment: it’s lazy. The team wanted to speed through development to capitalize on the original’s somewhat surprising success and went with the easiest trick in the book to up the sequel’s laugh count. It’s not difficult to stick a bunch of writers in a room to come up with some clever wordplay, zesty one-liners, and the occasional shoehorned cultural reference. What actually takes time and imagination is blocking out how a character’s presence can create comedic moments – especially when combining CGI and live-action characters. At least some elements of this visual humor broke through in the energetic first “Sonic The Hedgehog,” but this follow-up abandons whatever headway it made.
This emphasis on quantity over quality is a defining feature of “Sonic The Hedgehog 2.” At a whopping two hours, its runtime is sure to test the patience of the film’s youngest viewers (and their parents). If the first film was about reintroducing the character to young’uns unfamiliar with the Sega game, the second film takes the opportunity to build out the world. “Sonic The Hedgehog 2” introduces a pair of new characters from the videogame: sweet-natured sidekick Tails (voice of Colleen O’Shaughnessy) and pugnacious antagonist Knuckles (voice of Idris Elba, whose booming bass vocals actually finesses making the film’s verbal wit land). Adding this much to the mix ultimately just tacks on many expository scenes, delaying the majority of the PG-appropriate action-comedy mayhem to the film’s second hour.
The easiest place to trim would be Sonic’s adoptive human parents, James Marsden’s “Donut Lord” Tom and Tika Sumpter’s Maddie, given that they spend most of the film away from the action at a family wedding in Hawaii. The B-plot eventually proves relevant to the main story, yet the frequent cutaways disrupt the narrative flow of Sonic trying to beat Robotnik and Knuckles to the mystical Magic Emerald. (It also does not help that Marsden and Sumpter appear asleep at the wheel without an animated presence to react against, almost as if someone to had to cart them off the beach and force them to fulfill their contractual obligation.) The luminous Natasha Rothwell, playing the weekend’s bridezilla, ends up saving the section with her outsized self-obsession – yet her presence always feels entirely perfunctory.
A need for speed works for Sonic the character, not “Sonic The Hedgehog” the franchise itself. The film never feels like it’s thinking beyond the next laugh line. It’s so caught up in the adrenaline rush of the present moment that “Sonic The Hedgehog 2” completely loses sight of the endgame. A pity, too, as the film sets up a potentially interesting thematic tension with Sonic’s eager adolescent energy getting him into trouble – something with more resonance to its target audience than stories involving more adult heroes. But somewhere along the way, it loses the thread and winds up settling for a generic message of family togetherness. This ‘Sonic’ sure isn’t super. [C]