"Pokemon" comes straight from the Short Attention Span school of the cinema. With its incomprehensible plot, flat visual style and indecipherably mixed messages (violence is good; no, wait, violence is bad!), this movie seems chiefly to be an excuse to sell even more trading cards, those elusive billets that have turned a generation of youngsters into thieves, mercenaries and compulsive gamblers.
But when has cynical marketing ever kept throngs of kids from clamoring for anything? Rest assured, they will demand to see "Pokemon," which presents parents with a dilemma: forbid the little ones to see what amounts to a swollen version of what they can see every Saturday morning anyway?
Or go with them and suffer an hour and a half of the most grating, tiresome and morally empty film currently on screens (and that includes "The Bone Collector")?
It's a no-win situation, because you'll have to endure a torturous hour and a half -- of tantrums or mindless assaults on' the senses -- either way.
"Pokemon," alarmingly subtitled "The First Movie," features a cast of animated characters that will be familiar to the scores of young fans who have followed them in every incarnation, from the Nintendo video game to trading cards to cartoons (and now Happy Meals). In the movie version, Ash Ketchum and his Pokemon Pikachu -- a little yellow creature that resembles an electrified mouse -- are invited to a mysterious island, where they will compete to become the greatest Pokemon team in the world.
Pokemons, for the uninitiated, are creatures trained by their owners to become as highly evolved as they can be. The point of evolution seems to be to fight other Pokemons to prove just how evolved you are. Some people consider this an admirable expression of Japanese values like teamwork, loyalty and selflessness. If "Pokemon: The First Movie" is any indication, it's really just an excuse to take its characters from one fight scene to another.
At any rate, when Ash, Pikachu and their friends arrive on the island, they discover that their host is Mewtwo, a pumped-up version of the kitten-like Pokemon called Mew. Mewtwo is a little peeved, not unreasonably, that he was created by human masters purely for their own ego gratification, and he is seeking to wipe out all humans and Pokemons from the planet. Whether or not he succeeds becomes clear only after lots of pyrotechnic confrontations, murky philosophizing and general scuffling around.
Kids will stay enthralled through all of this, even while the Pokemons' baby-talk dialogue will make parents long for the relatively Churchillian discourse of Tinky Winky, et al., and even while the thoroughly nonsensical plot makes Elmo's visit to Grouchland look like "The Battleship Potemkin."
Of course, the filmmakers have seen their audience coming a mile away, tacking on one short film and a preamble to the main feature so the movie will resemble a television show -- complete with commercial breaks -- as much as possible.
These not-so-short subjects may lead you to wonder just when the movie will begin, but don't worry: Soon enough you'll be wondering if it will ever end.
'Pokemon: The First Movie'
Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama
Running time 89 minutes
Released by Warner Brothers
Sun score: *