So profoundly bad that it represents the worst of two entirely different mediums, “Ratchet & Clank” doesn’t blur the line between movies and videogames so much as it flushes them both in a toilet and forces us to watch as they swirl together down the drain. Some backstory: “Ratchet & Clank” is a deservedly popular series of videogames from a California studio called Insomniac, the first installment of which was released for the Playstation 2 back in 2002. Earlier this month, Insomniac launched a spiffed up HD remake of the original game, and thought that it might be a fun idea to promote it by partnering with Rainmaker Studios — an animation house responsible for 11 Barbie movies and “Escape from Planet Earth” — in order to create a feature-length film that essentially told the same story. They were very, very wrong.
Co-directed by Kevin Munroe (2007’s “TMNT”) and Jericca Cleland (the cinematographer of “Space Chimps”), “Ratchet & Clank” is not only a joyless and gallingly derivative slog through space, it’s also one of digital cinema’s most painful eyesores. Worst of all, it’s a terrible piece of advertising, as the movie is sure to raise as much disinterest in the new videogame as it does awareness.
Unfolding like a patchwork of videogame cutscenes, the film rattles through the plot of the original game while denying viewers the interactivity that gave this franchise its purpose. There are some videogames that might lend themselves to this hyper-faithful approach (e.g. “The Last of Us”), but “Ratchet & Clank” isn’t one of them. It’s enough to make you appreciate the demented chances taken by the likes of the “Super Mario Bros.” movie — at least those guys recognized that watching a plumber repeatedly jump on a flag and learn that his crush has been abducted wouldn’t enough to sustain a feature-length film. It’s hard to say who “Ratchet & Clank” is supposed to be for — fans of the franchise already know the plot (and have long since learned to ignore it when playing the games), while newcomers have seen this story told better in so many other ways.
The most impressive thing about “Ratchet & Clank” is that it manages to rip off the first installment of all three Star Wars trilogies. If you bought a bootleg copy of “The Force Awakens” from that guy on the subway, “Ratchet and Clank” is the movie that would start playing when you got home and fired up the DVD. The fun begins aboard an intergalactic space ship that is definitely not a Death Star™, where Chairman Drek — an alien business tycoon who acts like a cross between Darth Vader and Donald Trump and looks like the anthropomorphized phlegm from a Mucinex ad — is preparing to destroy another innocent world. Voiced by Paul Giamatti (garbling his words, perhaps in the hopes that people won’t recognize his voice), Drek has been “de-planetizing” the galaxy for nefarious purposes that are ultimately revealed to be as mundane as the animation that brings them to life.
Wipe to the desert planet of Totally Not Tatooine, where a “lombax” named Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is working as a mechanic and dreaming of adventure (a lombax is a creature that’s human, part lemur, and part focus group, but if you have to ask then it’s already too late). Ratchet worships Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), the vain and boneheaded leader of the Avengers-esque Galactic Rangers. Presumably based on a piece of Mr. Incredible concept art that was stolen from Brad Bird’s recycling bin, Qwark sports a chest that’s as big as his ego and a cleft chin that’s as big as your desire to walk out of the movie by the time the character is introduced. Anyway, the Galactic Rangers are auditioning for new recruits, and Ratchet knows that his destiny is calling. An incoherent pod-racing scene later, and Ratchet is on the team. They fight Drek (and the real bad guy). Everyone goes home.
Oh, right — Clank! The movie itself can barely be bothered to remember this cute little guy. What is there to say about Clank? A defect from one of Drek’s assembly lines who quickly blossoms into a natural defector, Clank is an adorable gizmo with a pronounced underbite. He likes guns. His eyes are green. Sometimes Ratchet wears him like a backpack. His name is in the title of the movie.
An anomaly in every respect, Clank is the only thing that’s nice to look at in this warp-speed vomit of lights and noises — the robot is an outlier in a film that’s ultimately nothing more than a monument to how low the standards for theatrical-grade animation have fallen in the CG era. In what can only be interpreted as an embarrassed attempt to distract from their work, Cleland and Munroe have shrouded their garish imagery in the eye-straining darkness of dirt-cheap 3D. The visuals are so muddy that most viewers will likely take off their glasses in favor of the mild blurriness that comes with confronting the screen directly. It’s a mild headache one way or the other, “Ratchet & Clank” becoming the rare movie that’s literally so bad it hurts.
Even with eyes closed, this is still a rough ride. At 94 minutes, the movie is roughly 45 minutes too long, and neither its penchant for irreverent humor (i.e. an on-screen timer counting down to the bad guy’s big speech) nor voice cameos from Sylvester Stallone and John Goodman can speed things up.
It’s hard to care about how insultingly derivative this stuff is with a controller in your hand and guns like “the sheepinator” at your disposal, but it’s impossible to ignore it when you’re slouched into a multiplex seat and waiting to be entertained. Because the film cleaves to the plot of the original videogame with an orthodox fidelity, the awfulness of the movie only serves to illuminate how lazy this series has always been. Eventually, it starts to feel like Insomniac paid some people several million dollars to make one of those asinine “Cinema Sins” videos about their own intellectual property. “Ratchet & Clank” is a litmus test for what audiences are willing to accept. Do the world a favor and play this one at home.
“Ratchet & Clank” opens in theaters this Friday.