‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ Review: Still Square

I’m no stranger to Bikini Bottom. I may not have a pineapple home there, but I know the residents and local spots. Though after my unfortunate recent visit, for “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” I’m packing up my swim trunks and heading elsewhere.

In “Sponge on the Run,” directed by Tim Hill, our favorite undersea fry cook must journey with his best friend, Patrick, to rescue SpongeBob’s pet snail, Gary, who has been snail-napped by King Poseidon. They’re headed to the Lost City of Atlantic City, a “scary, vice-ridden cesspool of moral depravity” (sorry, Jersey, you didn’t hear it from me).

“Sponge on the Run” wants to be clever in nodding toward genre conventions: Patrick suggests they’re on a buddy adventure while SpongeBob thinks he’s on a singular hero’s journey. It’s both — and both executed poorly. With the internet’s boyfriend, Keanu Reeves, using his celebrity clout to no avail as SpongeBob and Patrick’s spiritual guide, the duo pass through a Western saloon-style underworld inhabited by cowboy-pirate-zombies dancing to Snoop Dogg. If that last sentence confounded you, let me just say that’s only one of the inane and illogical narrative turns in this stubbornly unfunny film. But that Snoop song? A jam. With Weezer covers and a reggaeton-style remix of the show’s theme, the movie at least knows how to drop a beat.

The rest is studded with references to the first (and vastly superior) SpongeBob film, from 2004, and chokes up its third act with an endless, overly sentimental lovefest. All this rendered in C.G.I. animation so nauseatingly garish and artificial it’s like inserting LED lights directly into your eyeballs. “Sponge on the Run” may take us back under the sea, but this sponge is all dried up.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. In theaters and on Paramount+. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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