Video game adaptation 'Ratchet & Clank' has merit, but can't compete with the big boys

Posted April 30

“RATCHET & CLANK” — 2½ stars — Voices of James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Bella Thorne, Rosario Dawson, Sylvester Stallone; PG (action and some rude humor); in general release

"Ratchet & Clank" is a full-length animated feature based on a Sony Playstation video game. It has enough high points to make it a reasonable second option for families who have already taken the kids to "Zootopia" or the new "Jungle Book," but on its own it struggles to move the needle.

The story is set in a faraway galaxy, where two unlikely heroes combine forces against Chairman Drek (voiced by Paul Giamatti), a megalomaniacal bad guy with a dramatic forehead, a passion for diabolical laughter, and a nasty habit of blowing up planets.

Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a fox-like creature called a Lombax who works as a talented mechanic. He has dreams of joining the Galactic Rangers, a team of superheroes led by Captain Qwark (Jim Ward) and his comically large chin. The Rangers defend the galaxy against bad guys like Chairman Drek, and some early setbacks reveal a need for reinforcements. But when Ratchet attends an open audition, his diminutive size gets him a quick dismissal.

Clank (David Kaye) has similar problems. He is the runt of a litter of Chairman Drek's killer robots, led by the nasty Victor Von Ion (Sylvester Stallone). The little fellow is quickly targeted for disposal, but after a daring escape, Clank teams up with Ratchet, and when they use their combined ingenuity to avert an attack on Ratchet's home planet, Qwark, the Rangers have no choice but to bring them onto the team.

Once there, they find a group that is split by ideology. Brax Lextrus (Dean Redman) and Cora (Bella Thorne) support Qwark's philosophy of shoot first, ask questions later, and aren't too interested in the tech-savvy, strategic angle of Elaris (Rosario Dawson). But they soon realize they'll have to come together in order to fight off Chairman Drek, who is employing an ex-Ranger named Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman) behind the scenes.

It's a setup for an underdog buddy comedy with potential, but Ratchet and his robo-pal get lost in the shuffle of the film's plot. Part of this may be because the relationship between the title characters isn't quite even. Ratchet gets more attention as his sudden success leads to a traditional bout with overconfidence, and Clank pretty much remains the one-note cute comic support.

The animation seems designed to reflect the source material, which results in a product that looks good but won’t turn any heads. The cast features a lot of big names, though John Goodman feels wasted in a small supporting role as Grimroth, Ratchet's mechanic boss.

When your audience is children, it's wise to avoid overcomplicating your plot and characters, and the best animated features are able to make simple concepts smart and engaging. Unfortunately, "Ratchet & Clank" pretty much just feels like a by-the-numbers adaptation of a video game. Its weakness lies less in obvious flaws, and more in that it just doesn't bring much to the table. And with competition like "Zootopia" and "Jungle Book," that could spell doom for our heroes.

There’s also a nagging question that lies beneath any big-screen video game adaptation: after investing hours in a virtual world that gives you an active part in determining its outcome, why would you want to spend 90 minutes watching it play by itself?

“Ratchet & Clank” is rated PG for action and some rude humor; running time: 94 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.


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