Brendan Fraser is a decent actor. I’ve enjoyed him in a number of films from the wackiness of Encino Man to the drama of Gods and Monsters. But recently I’ve noticed it seems as if he’s stopped trying to act, and appears to be on autopilot. I sensed this trens with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, with Journey to the Center of the Earth: 3-D, and now most noticeably in Inkheart.
Now, there’s more wrong with Inkheart than just Brendan Fraser’s blasé performance. In fact, blasé pretty much describes the entire film.
Like most fantasy movies of late, Inkheart is an adaptation of a book series. Unfortunately, Inkheart fails to deliver any sense of wonder or awe consistent in the Lord of the Rings films, Harry Potter series, or even The Chronicles of Narnia movies. There’s a disconnect. A feeling that this genre has come to its end and this is the bottom of the barrel. It certainly feels that way.
The story concept has been done before on film. Usually as a comedic device, but Inkheart tries to utilize the concept for a dramatic structure. Maybe it worked in book-form, but doesn’t work on the screen.
In 1991, John Candy starred in the fantasy-comedy Delirious. He plays a soap opera writer who takes a blow to the head and winds up in his own soap opera. Now, with his trusty typewriter (ask your grandparents, kids), he figures out that he can write his way into and out of any situation and it will become a reality. Comedy ensues, Robert Wagner has a cameo. It’s a goofy, at times dopey movie, but the concept works.
Same goes with the recent Adam Sandler movie Bedtime Stories. Sandler discovers that when his niece and nephew tell bedtime stories the stories come to life. This of course leads to wacky and whimsical situations that include Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Rob Schneider (The Hot Chick). Again, as a comedy, the concept works well.
Then we get to Inkheart that tries to be all serious and dramatic about the concept, and for some reason or another, it falls flat. It isn’t fun. It isn’t amusing. And it takes an ugly turn toward the middle of the film. It just doesn’t work.
Basically, there are folks known as Silvertongues who have the skills to read aloud and bring whatever stories they read into real-life existence. Fraser’s character is once such person. His actions have led to several fictional characters being released into reality. From the good to the bad. Now, he must race against time to save his wife from the clutches of one of these baddies before it’s too late. Where did this guy come from? From the novel that shares the film’s title: Inkheart.
I’ve already talked about Brendan Fraser and his seemingly “phone-it-in” attitude toward acting lately. His role as Mo is a waste. The attempt to make him serious turns campy at every turn. The attempt to make him just a regular guy fails too as he jumps and runs around as if in another Mummy film.
But what about everyone else? There are a lot of high-caliber actors in the film, but that does not make for a good movie as discussed in a pervious post.
Helen Mirren (Calendar Girls, State of Play) plays great-aunt Elinor, a cranky old broad who is quite protective of her books. But again, Mirren, who may have had fun NOT playing royalty for once is wasted in the film. Unlike some movies where great actors elevate the performances of those around them, Mirren is unable to pull Fraser out his acting funk. Their moments on-screen together are uneven and awkward.
Like in the Mummy films, Fraser’s kid has a British accent as does his wife. The kid here, Meggie, is payed by Eliza Hope Bennett (Nanny McPhee) who fails to inspire or bring anything exciting about her character to the screen. As a result, even the kid in this kid movie fails to inspire and be entertaining.
By far the biggest waste of quality talent in the film is Jennifer Connelly (House of Sand and Fog, A Beautiful Mind). She’s a great actress, but her “role” as it is in Inkheart is more of a twenty-second cameo in a flashback. What the hell? Her “role” as Roxanne could have been done by an extra. There was nothing of value in what she did (well, unless she got a lot of money for her cameo).
There was nothing about any of the characters that makes you want to keep watching or even care about them.
Adaptations of novels can be either good or bad. This was definitely in the BAD category. I think that all the fun and adventure of the book got left in the book. What results is a dark and brooding film that fails the audience and fails even more to deliver an entertaining story.
Adapted by screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Robots, Spider Man 4), there seems to be something missing throughout the film. Or maybe there’s too much. Too much exposition. Too much explanation. Too much cheesy dramatic dialogue. Excess can spoil a movie just as a lack of elements can. With Inkheart, both exist at once.
Iain Softley (K-PAX, Hackers) directing frustrates more than it excites. The pacing becomes incredibly slow and tedious at times. For a children’s film, that is not a good thing. Moments in the film are dark, moving toward disturbing, especially toward the end of the film. I can see children cowering in their seats out of fear and not enjoying the film.
This leads to a question about what the overall message of Inkheart is. What doesn the director want the viewer to walk away with? In this case, it appears that the film is trying to say: “Don’t read out loud, or evil and scary people will appear in your house and terrorize you.” And what kid wouldn’t want that, huh?
Inkheart fails on so many levels that despite several good special effects they cannot save the film from itself. It’s a slow-paced, unimaginative, and dull waste of time.
In all film genres, there’s always a string of great movies, followed by the ones that fail to click. This definitely is in the second boat along with The Golden Compass. And, as with all genres (well, excluding the Western), adaptations of fantasy fiction will find their way once again. Just not in Inkheart.
Inkheart reads itself into reality an F. Someone get Brendan Fraser an acting coach pronto!
New Line Cinema
Starring Brendan Fraser, Helen Mirren, Paul Bettany, Jim Broadbent, and Eliza Hope Bennett
Directed by Iain Softley
Rated PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments, and brief language
Running Time = 106 miuntes
In theatres January 23, 2009