Based on a popular PlayStation game, the sci-fi animated feature "Ratchet & Clank" seeks to capture the kid-friendly audience this weekend as well as the gamer crowd, which has a familiarity with the space-based game characters. The film is a basic hero story about Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor, also the voice in the video game), a young lombax (a cat-like creature) who dreams of joining the Galactic Rangers, only to find that the hero business is much more complicated than it seems.
Ratchet gets his opportunity to sign up when the planets of their galaxy are threatened with "deplanetization" by the evil overload Dreck (Paul Giamatti), a slug-like creature with a sweet ponytail mullet who rides around on a Segway. He's teamed with Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), an alien mad scientist, to equip his giant planet-blasting gun, and the two plot for world domination. The only thing standing in their way are the Galactic Rangers, a crew of fame-obsessed, violent and egotistical space heroes.
The story line is essentially ripped from "Star Wars" — a feisty young loner from a faraway planet dreams of joining an elite group of warriors to save the universe from dark and evil forces. Ratchet's helper Clank (David Kaye, also from the video game), a logical British robot, is essentially a shrunken C-3PO. The gruff mechanic Grimroth (John Goodman), who took him in as a youngster, as well as the sassy female warriors Cora (Bella Thorne) and Alaris (Rosario Dawson), are also character amalgamations from various sci-fi and "Star Wars"-esque stories.
There's nothing wrong with this kind of genre familiarity, especially as the film is quite chaotic. There are no transitions between scenes, so you feel yanked around from moment to moment. Nothing about the Rangers' plans to defeat the evil Drek and Dr. Nefarious are fully explained, so the formula recognition helps. It's just good guys versus bad guys.
The script is powered by rapid-fire jokes, including a heavy dose of mundane office-based workplace humor. The jokes fly fast and furious, and about 20% of them actually land. Much of the humor relies more on a sort of hyper-sarcastic Disney Channel-style line delivery, especially when Ranger Cora continually sighs about wanting to shoot someone, now, please?
The film is obsessed with firepower, as the Ranger suits allow them to materialize different weapons into their hands at will. Coming from a video-game perspective, it makes sense; a user can cycle through customizable choices. But from a storytelling perspective, the obsession with guns in a movie aimed at children is troubling, in poor taste and is lazy writing to boot. Ratchet is much more interesting when he's using his practical know-how and Clank's smarts to outwit the bad guys.
"Ratchet & Clank" feels like watching four episodes of a Saturday morning cartoon mashed into a feature-length film. The basic dramatic score underlines this sense as well as the flat character design, overly busy editing and run-of-the-mill story. No need to rush the family to the theater this weekend, you can wait for this one to hit the small screen.
Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
'Ratchet & Clank'
MPAA rating: PG, for action and some rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: In general release