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Film Review: ‘Ratchet & Clank’

The underdog duo from the popular PlayStation game are sometimes sidelined in their cheerfully noisy big-screen debut.

James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, Paul Giamatti, Armin Shimerman, Rosario Dawson, John Goodman, Bella Thorne, Sylvester Stallone.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2865120/

As evinced by a digital graveyard’s worth of game-over attempts, adapting video games for the big screen is fraught with difficulties — not least the introduction of an emotional rooting element, minus first-person interactivity. “Ratchet & Clank” faces a slightly different challenge. As one of the more character-oriented PlayStation franchises, there’s a personal relationship of sorts to be preserved here — though Kevin Munroe and Jericca Cleland’s busy, clattering, soda-pop-hued toon sometimes loses sight of the eponymous duo’s buddy dynamic amid a whirl of zippy space racing. Whether or not they’re familiar with the source property, kids are unlikely to be deterred: There’s just enough blaring sound and color to this knowingly silly tale of interplanetary derring-do to adequately offset its impersonal corporate sheen.

As with Munroe’s 2007 debut “TMNT,” an animated and immediately disposable extension of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise, source material spanning more than one generation in its cultural reach has been fashioned simply as a tiny-tots outing — give or take its PG rating. With a narrative drawn largely from the game’s inaugural edition — launched in 2002, years before the pic’s target audience was even conceived — viewers need not have been players at any point to follow these pinballing proceedings.

Only fleetingly do “Ratchet & Clank’s” opening minutes portend a non-satirical equivalent of “The Lego Movie’s” antic chaos: Subtitles identifying different, stickily named planets and locations (Veldin, Orxon, Quartu, Tenemule, the Kyzeau Plateau) glide by at blithe speed, while flashes of onscreen text in an imagined alien alphabet (that nonetheless produces sounds remarkably like English) muddle matters further. This information onslaught turns out to be largely gibberish; as the smoke swiftly clears, age-old types and tropes emerge.

Munroe’s screenplay, co-written with T.J. Fixman and Gerry Swallow, jumps straight in with the dastardly plotting: “Cue bad guy speech,” reads an introductory title card, in one of the film’s sporadic attempts at postmodern parent-nudging. As in the original game, dimwitted villain Chairman Drek (abrasively voiced here by Paul Giamatti), leader of the brutish Blarg race, is on a mission to rule the Solana Galaxy: With his native planet Orxon having grown toxic and overpopulated, he sets about invading and plundering large chunks of rival planets to build a new super-sphere for his people.

Drek’s formidable troops even threaten the lantern-jawed dominance of Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), the Galaxy’s insufferably egotistical chief protector, whose team of military Rangers finds itself short on brawn and brain alike. Enter fox-like whatchamacallit Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), a wispy but whip-smart space-motor mechanic who surprises even himself when his technical ingenuity fends off a Blarg attack. Along for the ride is Clank (David Kaye), a posh-voiced, gold-hearted robot refugee from Orxon whom Ratchet saves from the scrapheap.

As diminutive Davids in an army of Goliaths, Ratchet and Clank share an underdog bond that is ostensibly the spine of the film, yet their friendship hardly comes into focus. No sooner are they inducted into the Rangers than they are separated by a mission: As Clank is resigned to control-room duty with bright-spark scientist Elaris (Rosario Dawson), Ratchet takes on more physical challenges alongside the morally ambiguous Qwark. As in the games, Qwark is a character who fluctuates between ally and antagonist; that duality, along with Ward’s ripe, blustering voice work, makes him comfortably the most compelling figure here. The filmmakers appear to agree, as for much of the pic’s noisily circular midsection, the eponymous buddies are both left curiously out of the loop.

If it’s not always clear who’s driving the action in “Ratchet & Clank,” at least the action is being driven — fast and furious. Kids unconcerned with particulars of character or consequence are unlikely to be bored for a second: When interplanetary power struggles begin to pall, there’s a handy “sheepinator” machine to jolly things up again. The pic’s adult asides, meanwhile, are occasionally guffaw-raising: References to Instagram and vapid celebrity culture (Qwark’s hashtags of classified information, “#startingsecretmission” and “humblebrag”) contribute an air of pop self-awareness appropriate enough for a PlayStation adaptation.

Technically, while some generic character designs and plastic effects-work ensure the film’s video-game origins aren’t entirely erased, this independent production is bright and fluid enough to rank with middle-tier efforts from the animation arms of DreamWorks or Fox. Intentionally or otherwise, a palette of saturated oranges and ultra-marines recalls the acid futurism of Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim”; sonically, it’s less enticing, with Evan Wise’s darting, jangling score short on memorable motifs.

Voice performances, Ward excepted, are likewise enthusiastic but indistinct. While the principal vocal stars of the game have been retained, star casting in secondary roles feels a tad haphazard: As a hulking, grunting robot warrior of minimal narrative importance, Sylvester Stallone has rarely sounded quite so expendable.

Film Review: 'Ratchet & Clank'

Reviewed at Soho Screening Rooms, London, April 6, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: (Animated — U.S.-Canada) A Gramercy Pictures (in U.S.)/Vertigo Films (in U.K.) release of a Cinema Management Group presentation of a Rainmaker Entertainment, Blockade Entertainment production in association with Bartel Entertainment. (International sales: Cinema Management Group, Los Angeles.) Produced by Kim Dent Wilder, Brad Foxhoven, David Wohl. Executive producers, Michael Hefferon, David Sheldon, Jim Na, Vincent Ye, Xinyu Bian, Kevin Munroe, Riley Russell, Connie Booth, Edward Noeltner, Brian Cleveland, Jason Cleveland, Delna Bhesania, Richard Rionda del Castro. Co-producer, Shawn McCorkindale.

Crew: Directed by Kevin Munroe. Co-director, Jericca Cleland. Screenplay, T.J. Fixman, Gerry Swallow, Munroe. Camera (color, widescreen), Anthony Di Ninno; editor, Braden Oberson; music, Evan Wise; music supervisor, Jingle Punks Music; production designer, James Wood Wilson; sound designer (Dolby Digital), J.R. Fountain; supervising sound editors, Nicholas Ferreira, Fountain; re-recording mixers, Chris Cooke, Mark Zsifkovits; visual effects supervisor, Bruce Woloshyn; visual effects, Method Studios; animation director, Ian Blum; line producers, Marcia Gwendolyn Jones, Harry Linden; associate producers, Mark D. Chen, Jason Huang, Fixman, Ryan Schneider, Greg Phillips; casting, Ned Lott, Lana Carson.

With: James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, Paul Giamatti, Armin Shimerman, Rosario Dawson, John Goodman, Bella Thorne, Sylvester Stallone.

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