A creative team with seemingly as many pieces as your typical LEGO kit struggles with comedic consistency in “The LEGO Ninjago Movie,” a brand extension that feels more like brand dilution. The franchise’s toy-brick animated aesthetic remains visually addictive, but there’s not much else that stands out in this cheery trifle, which credits as many writers as “The LEGO Movie” and “The LEGO Batman Movie” combined.
Not sweating connections to Cartoon Network’s ongoing “Ninjago” series, the movie spotlights Lloyd (Dave Franco), a teenage super-ninja whose markedly less-super civilian life is all about the stigma of being a villain’s son. Worse still, he’s neglected — his Vader-y absentee dad, Garmadon (Justin Theroux, HBO’s “The Leftovers”), can’t even keep it straight that the kid’s name isn’t “Luh-loyd,” in an amusing running joke.
Foiling Garmadon’s latest assault on the bustling city of Ninjago is a daily routine for Lloyd and his elementally styled ninja pals (Michael Pena and Kumail Nanjiani of “The Big Sick,” among others). Yet they do it with such gung-ho urgency, it’s a little self-defeating. We could do with a more leisurely look at the elaborately rendered kaiju-robot dragon that Lloyd pilots. Meanwhile, his teammates and their respective rides are so hurriedly profiled, they make the Ninja Turtles seem indelibly defined.
A solution to the endless cycle of attack and retreat is offered by Lloyd’s uncle, wise old Master Wu (Jackie Chan, who’s especially likable as a kindly, tale-spinning shopkeeper in a live-action framing sequence). He tells his pupils of an ultimate weapon that could stop Garmadon, if wielded properly. Cue some nominal preaching about patience and hard work, followed by the weapon’s spectacularly bungled deployment — cleverness on a par with “The LEGO Movie” and its big reveal of what the heck a “Kragle” was.
Still, the “Ninjago” bag of tricks isn’t overflowing — we get Bruce Lee flashes and Chinese flute gags, but also an awful lot of revisiting that doomsday device. And while fallout from the weapon’s misuse leads to some forced cooperation — and bonding — between father and son, this comparatively fresher stretch just makes some of the preceding conflict seem like story padding.
Franco’s cartoony angst holds some appeal, and Theroux is audibly game for playing super-baddie (even if he was cast partly for the way he growlingly channels Will Arnett’s “LEGO” voicework). But their material lacks punch. A sharper script would have been the real ultimate weapon.
THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE
Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan. Written by Logan, Fisher, and seven others. Starring Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 101 minutes. PG (mild action, rude humor).Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.