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‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2’: Speed demon sequel is, of all things, slow

Video game-inspired adventure fails to live up to the brisk wit and surprising sweetness of the first film

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(2 stars)

In “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” there is no problem that its titular speed demon can’t outrun. With that in mind, it’s especially perplexing that this video game-inspired sequel should be, of all things, a bit sluggish.

If 2020’s surprisingly appealing “Sonic the Hedgehog” stayed true to its lightning-fast protagonist by delivering humor and heart in a brisk, 100-minute package, the follow-up gets bogged down in some muddled franchise bloat. By revisiting every major and supporting character from the first film while padding the story with new ones, redundant “fetch quests” and a two-hour run time, returning director Jeff Fowler goes all in on an ill-fitting Marvel-izing of Sonic’s story. (And that’s not even taking into consideration the film’s Infinity Gauntlet-esque MacGuffin, use of sky beams and mid-credits stinger.)

The streamlined first movie, adapted from the Sega video game series through a blend of live action and CGI animation, worked partially because it was an improv comedy showcase masquerading as a family-friendly blockbuster. This time around, the inherently amiable Ben Schwartz again voices Sonic with uplifting optimism and a slyly subversive streak; you can imagine him rattling off jokes in the recording booth until he finds just the right gem. Returning as the mad scientist Dr. Robotnik — now sporting an aggressively mustachioed, more video game-accurate look — Jim Carrey remains in gleefully unhinged form. Yet, their charms are less potent when tangled up by the overwrought plot, courtesy of screenwriters Pat Casey, Josh Miller and John Whittington.

This second installment opens with Robotnik where we left him at the end of the first film: stranded on a remote, mushroom-populated planet after Sonic got the better of him. But he soon forms an alliance with a temperamental echidna named Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), and the villainous duo travel to Sonic’s adopted home planet of Earth in hopes that the quippy blue hedgehog can steer them toward an all-powerful emerald. A lore-heavy, globe-trotting adventure — complete with a baffling Siberian dance battle — ensues. But you just need to know it’s standard-issue “stop the bad guys before they destroy the world” stuff.

Ben Schwartz, your favorite fool on ‘Parks and Recreation,’ is ready for the spotlight

It’s a joy hearing Elba flaunt his underused comedy chops by playing Knuckles as a simple-minded warrior, lacking in wit and self-awareness, even if the shtick is a shade too close to Drax from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. Fans of the video games will also recognize Colleen O’Shaughnessey’s Tails, an anthropomorphic flying fox who tags along for the ride after making his big-screen debut in the first movie’s credits sequence.

While both characters make for welcome additions, their presence tends to leave the live-action cast in the dust. James Marsden and Tika Sumpter are back as Tom and Maddie Wachowski, Sonic’s surrogate parents in the sleepy Montana town of Green Hills. But they spend half the movie sidelined on a Hawaiian vacation while attending the wedding of Maddie’s sister (a scene-stealing Natasha Rothwell, who, between this and “The White Lotus,” apparently can’t get enough of Hawaiian resorts). It’s an entertaining enough detour, but one that feels like it belongs in another movie. Although it’s nice to see actors Lee Majdoub, Adam Pally and Tom Butler also reprise their bit parts, their shoehorned scenes do little more than take gags from the first film and beat them to death.

Still, there’s no denying that kids will delight in “Sonic 2’s” zany antics, explosive set pieces and commendable lessons. Older viewers should get a kick out of the punning dialogue and meta-humor, which wryly calls out homages to Batman, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones. (“I don’t want to die like this,” Carrey exclaims, while outrunning a boulder straight out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” “It’s derivative!”) And Schwartz still knows how to slip in a clever pop culture reference, including a delightful dig at Dwayne Johnson’s feud with Vin Diesel.

Carrey, 60, has speculated that this could be his acting swan song, telling “Access Hollywood” last week that he was “fairly serious” about retiring. Even if this is the final showcase for Carrey’s idiosyncratic talents, the mid-credits stinger makes clear that this franchise has every intention of zooming on. Next time, let’s hope Sonic is back up to speed.

PG. At area theaters. Contains action, some violence, rude humor and mildly crude language. 122 minutes.