Brendan Fraser can make storybook characters come to life, and transport real people into books, in the action-adventure "Inkheart." (NewLine Cinema)
It's hard to get too down on a movie that encourages children to read and write, that finds virtue in literary history and the power of imagination.
So let's not. "Inkheart" is an obvious leftover from the kids' fantasy hysteria that swept through Hollywood in the wake of the success of "The Lord of the Rings" and first "Chronicles of Narnia" adaptation. It's stuffed with otherworldly creatures and fantastical moments and dark forces and all that hullabaloo.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, except it's been done to death now, and films like this can end up so crowded with the extraordinary that it all begins to look ordinary.
Which is the case here, especially toward the unavoidable, everything-crammed-into-one-scene, semi-apocalyptic ending.
But there's also a great deal of invention and, again, respect for the written word running through this film. That should count for something, and it does.
Brendan Fraser stars as Mortimer, a man who has the gift/curse of being a "silvertongue" (a much better name for this film), which means when he reads aloud from a book, its characters come to life on Earth. Unfortunately, at the same time, someone from Earth gets sucked into the book.
Mortimer loses his lovely wife (Sienna Guillory) this way, while reading a fantasy book called "Inkheart" to his young daughter. Needless to say, he keeps his lips closed while reading afterward.
Unfortunately, the characters he's loosed upon the Earth by reading "Inkheart" aloud very much want him to keep reading. A fire juggler named Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) wants to be read back into the book. A dastardly villain named Capricorn (Andy Serkis) wants to recruit the ultimate evil from the book to work by his side.
This all comes to light when Mortimer, toting his now-12-year-old daughter (Eliza Bennett) around the world, happens on a copy of the rare "Inkheart." If he reads from it, can he bring his wife back to Earth, or will it just spell disaster?
Based on a novel by Cornelia Funke, this is all fairly imaginative stuff. But the film, directed by Iain Softley, never achieves the sense of wonder it strives for. There are too many characters thrown into the mix -- Helen Mirren picks up a paycheck as an eccentric aunt, Jim Broadbent plays the author of "Inkheart," and the wonderful Rafi Gavron plays an "Arabian Nights" thief -- and the film never develops any real rhythm.
It's the type of movie where wisecracks tossed between sidekicks fall flat time and again, and where big moments don't quite have the size they should. It's not completely flat, but neither is it electric.
Still, there are flying monkeys and unicorns and a silvertongue fellow who stutters, so that all the characters he brings down to Earth have lines from the books running across their faces. Most importantly, the young amongst us may find reason to read here.
Even if it can't quite conjure up the movie magic it intends, "Inkheart" does serve as public service announcement promoting literacy. And as such, your kids could do a lot worse at the cineplex.
More Tom Long
- Boundaries in TV and movies continue to fade
- Review: Modern Superman myth gets a visual upgrade in well-made 'Man of Steel'
- Review: The brutal life of an African 'War Witch'
- Review: End of times are good times in 'This Is the End'
- 'Fast & Furious 6' shows diverse cast can make big money
- Review: Predictable, superficial 'The Internship' glosses over some real issues
- Review: Jaden Smith in over his head in charmless 'After Earth'