‘Ratchet & Clank’
Directors: Jericca Cleland, Kevin Munroe
Voices of: James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye
1 Globe (out of 5)
If you have no idea what a Ratchet or a Clank is, you might mistake “Ratchet & Clank” for just another off-brand animated romp — a tiny oddity like “Norm of the North” or “The Nut Job” that every now and then mysteriously slips into multiplexes, aiming only to trick gullible parents into a family night out. It’s that, but it’s also something much more annoying: A video game movie crossed with an origin story for an established brand. These days even the randos are the demon seed of a bigger corporate hellbeast.
The brand in question is a long-running series of games, which do sound fun. Launched in 2003, the “Ratchet & Clank”s team a vaguely tiger-like being (the former) with a tiny robot out of a ’50s sci-fi (the latter). They zip across the universe, shooting things with big guns. The movie does slightly more than that. It’s a self-aware, joke-heavy piece of whiplash — although not so self-aware that it ever cops to baldly ripping off “Star Wars.” To wit: Ratchet (voice of James Arnold Taylor) is a mopey orphan wallowing on a disused desert planet, longing to show the world his secret might. Fate conspires to have him join a squad of do-gooders battling a baddie (Paul Giamatti, the most inexplicably overqualified of the random voice cast) who’s constructed a massive gizmo that can destroy planets.
There’s one semi-novel idea: The main star of the intergalactic superheroes is one Captain Qwark (voice of Jim Ward), a square-jawed lunk famous enough to get his own line of mythologizing comics and merchandise. He’s also such an ego hound who’ll sell out to the bad guys when he feels the least bit underappreciated. Qwark, too, is a knockoff, or at least strongly reminiscent of “Futurama”’s Zapp Brannigan, right down to his declarative speaking voice and yen for venality and cowardice. Naturally he’s not in the same galaxy as good old Zap — barely a sketch of a joke of a character.
It’s telling that it’s single truly loopy idea — a “sheep-anator,” which is what it sounds like — is only onscreen for about 10 seconds. Everything is forgettable but loud and clangy, pausing only for the too occasional deadpan pauses for Clank, an aluminum tin can who talks (via David Kaye) in a flat robot voice and is only a few notches below BB-8 in cute factor. Otherwise this is a video game you can’t play, and not even one of the better installments. Indeed, it’s probably less cinematic than the games from which it was cynically born.