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'Detective Pikachu' can't solve the riddle of live-action Pokemon

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By Brian Lowry, CNN

Everything worth seeing in "Pokemon Detective Pikachu" neatly fits in the coming-attractions trailer, leaving a pretty numbing additional 100 minutes of sound and furry. Those deeply invested in the franchise will likely find bits to like, but in terms of fashioning a memorable live-action version, alas, that's not in the cards.

The approach to this adaptation -- creating a world filled with Pokemon, who regularly interact with humans -- owes an obvious spiritual debt to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." The result is less colorful, though, and somehow louder and more annoying at virtually every turn.

The exercise thus boils down, largely, to one's tolerance for Ryan Reynolds being allowed to engage in what amounts to unbridled verbal mugging -- a modified, PG-rated version of his "Deadpool" shtick -- as the voice of Pikachu, a device that quickly yields diminishing returns. Even kids will likely be bored for stretches, although many will no doubt be delighted by the vaguely naughty references.

In terms of the flesh-and-blood actors, Justice Smith ("The Get Down") plays Tim, who learns that his father, a detective, has been killed in a car crash. He journeys to Ryme City, where Pokemon and people happily reside, before being united with his father's pint-sized pal, Pikachu.

Unexpectedly, Tim can understand everything Pikachu says, while the amnesiac Pokemon has no memory of what happened to Tim's dad. The two thus embark on a fairly half-baked investigation to find out what happened.

The mystery includes an illicit gas, used in an underground club; and an aspiring reporter (OK, listicle maker) named Lucy ("Big Little Lies" Kathryn Newton), who yearns for her big break at the news network CNM. (That's not a typo, but alternate-universe synergy from this Warner Bros. release, like CNN, part of WarnerMedia.)

That network is owned by Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), the city's billionaire mastermind, who had the dream of Pokemon and people living together in harmony.

Harmony, however, is in short supply, as the action -- when it comes -- is both frantic and chaotic, without always making a whole lot of sense. The highlights generally stem from small, too-brief moments, like Pikachu breezily humming the old Pokemon theme.

Director Rob Letterman (whose credits include animation and the 2010 "Gulliver's Travels") tries to conjure heart-warming moments, but as adorable as Pikachu might be, there's not much magic to be found.

"I'm pretty sure this is the worst idea anyone's ever had," Pikachu grumbles at one point.

"Detective Pikachu" isn't that bad, and the movie arrives helpfully armed with a couple decades worth of equity and goodwill; still, once you've gotten your fill of its wisecracking namesake, even grading on a curve, it isn't good.

"Pokemon Detective Pikachu" premieres May 10 in the U.S. It's rated PG.