Sonic the Hedgehog is so deeply adequate that it's almost hostile. The film comes fully predigested, with every single bit of its plot, every character beat, every gag telegraphing itself and its intended response; it is the kind movie for which the existence of an independent, thinking audience seems almost like an unnecessary complication to the purity of the thing mechanically laughing at its own jokes in the empty dark. To its credit, it does not for one minute pretend to be otherwise. Literally not for one minute: the very first thing that happens after the studio card (with the stars in the Paramount logo replaced by the spinning golden rings of the film's source material, the 1991 Sega Genesis video game and its constellation of descendants) is that we see some fast-paced action and explosions in the streets of San Francisco screech to a halt in a freeze-frame, while Sonic the Hedghog himself (voiced by Ben Schwartz) chimes in with the ol' "So, you're probably wondering..." gambit. No, Sonic, I regret to say that I definitely am not.

The standard-issue in medias res opening gives way to a standard issue flashback to Sonic's youth on a planet full of geologically improbably landscapes that are a dead ringer for the beloved "Green Hills Zone" level of the original game, where we learn that the juvenile hedgehog was so indiscreet in using his ability to run and roll at lightning-fast speeds that he attracted the unwanted attention of a clan of ninja-like echidnas, and was thus forced into exile to avoid capture. For the last ten years, he's been hopping from planet to planet using his clutch of magical golden rings, and at this point in time, he's in the lazy small town of Green Hills, Montana, where he amuses himself by racing through the forests and spying on the locals; his favorite locals to spy on being Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), and his veterinarian wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Once again, general boredom has led Sonic to become indiscreet, and one night, he runs so fast that it creates an energy surge that blows out the power grid across most of the western United States. The government takes an immediate notice, and reluctantly sends the off-putting social outcast and tech genius Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate. Robotnik, who views the rest of humanity with undisguised superiority and condescension, cares very little about the government's concerns about terrorism, but he is interested in capturing the hedgehog and harnessing his power to create the army of killer drones that he's building for no obvious reason but to prove that, if he wanted to, he could take over the world and eradicate all of life. So pretty soon, Sonic is on the run to San Francisco, and he needs Tom's help, and thus we have a buddy movie and travelogue.

All things considered, not a terrible adaptation of the games, once you concede that a genuinely good adaptation would have involved more talking animals and fewer Montana sheriffs. It's also not a terrible children's movie, though it is a deeply generic one. Hell, it's not the first time that James Marsden has played the straight man to an adrenaline junkie CGI effect, and Sonic can only benefit from being compared to the revolting Hop. It's bland, but never shrill; it's obvious, but never obnoxious. The jokes fall flat, but they have a certain comforting cheesy quality.

Carrey's performance is emblematic of the whole, in this respect. At a first approximation, he's just leaning on the same rubber-faced, rubber-jawed shtick that he ran straight in the ground in the 1990s (this feels, for what it's worth, like a deliberate bit of nostalgia; the whole movie seems keenly aware that it should have come out in 1996, and it tries very hard to keep up an era-appropriate energy level), and this is frankly true at a second and third approximation as well. But Carrey has aged enough out of his youthful zaniness for that shtick to feel less desperate to please, more like a bit of playful showmanship. It's still not remotely to my tastes (Carrey's big showstopper scene, an improvised dance routine, tired me out), but it works well enough in the role that the movie requires of it.

It's a bubbly kids' film, when we get right down to it; not the kind of kids' film that is full of so much warmth and creativity that it can't help but win over their parents, I am sorry to say, and not the kind so respectful and in awe of childhood that it doesn't need the parents. It's not even as cute and fuzzy as the last video game adaptation with a CGI co-star, 2019's Pokémon Detective Pikachu, a film that's sickly sweet where Sonic is wacky, but which justifies its sweetness with some dumbfoundingly good CGI making unbearably cute animals look impossibly real. Sonic himself is a perfectly fine visual effect, and given the very public process by which he was re-animated in a blinding hurry, it's almost impossible to believe he looks as good as he does; but he's just not as present, no matter how much director Jeff Fowler (making his first feature, a decade and a half after his darling 2004 short Gopher Broke) keeps the hedgehog centrally and respectfully framed, and no matter how good of a job Marsden does of treating the on-set reference like a dynamic being.

This is all to say: the core of Sonic is hollow, with Patrick Casey & Josh Miller's screenplay attempting to marry the so-very-'90s snarkiness of the character with the warm goop of a family movie about the joy of friendship, leaving the snark toothless and the goop mired in mechanical insincerity. It's a mediocre adventure with stakes that the film plainly doesn't believe in and plans on chucking out as soon as possible, and absolutely no sense of danger (a problem both of the flash-forward opening, and the fact that Robotnik is such a broadly-sketched buffoon). It is, in short, tedious and banal and more concerned with being functional than inspired or interesting. By the standards of video game movies, this means that it is unusually strong; by the standards of movies with CGI animals in live-action words, this means that it is close to being a masterpiece. Alack for having such standards!