Nothing warms a writer's icy heart more than something that champions books -- and reading, specifically. As communication becomes more and more a collection of texting abbreviations and message board protocols, the art of literature appears to be slowly sinking. So something like Inkheart should inspire all kinds of good will for fellow scribe Cornelia Funke, especially with its love of imagination, fiction, and all things erudite. Sadly, Hollywood's hand in the mix has created yet another attempted Harry Potter clone, a clever idea anemically adapted to capitalize on its commercial, not creative potential.
Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraiser
) is a "silvertongue" -- one of a rare few who can "read" characters out of books and bring them to life. Sadly, he discovers this trait one night while entertaining his wife Resa (Sienna Guillory
) and their daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett). While indulging in a passage from the fantasy novel Inkheart, he unleashes fire juggler Dustfinger (Paul Bettany
) while accidentally sending his spouse into the tome. Now, 10 years later, Mo is still looking to save her, even though his efforts have let loose more fictional faces from the book, including evil master thief Capricorn (Andy Serkis
). But the criminal is not content with being a viable member of the real world. He wants to rule all of mankind, and wants Mo to help him in this horrible pursuit. Article continues below
Like most good ideas badly bungled, Inkheart starts out interesting and grows more irritating as it plods along. Paced like a POW death march and bereft of anything that makes movies magic -- or entertaining -- or tolerable -- this is a clear case of lax source material leading to an even more inert big screen translation. All eyes are on director Iain Softley
, who showed some promise with his first feature, the early Beatles bio-pic Backbeat. But since then, his resume bears such scars as K-PAX and The Skeleton Key. Inkheart definitely goes down as his worst to date. It's a lifeless, vacuous jumble that seems purposefully confusing and, on occasion, downright indefensible.
Granted, making a serious film for "young adults" nowadays is a lot like getting said demo to give up their ever-present technological toys. The sheer impossibility baffles the mind. But where Softley strikes out is in the execution, not the idea. Though Funke's book may bear some fault, it's clear that she had more faith in her premise than anyone associated with the script. Inkheart constantly throws stunts at the camera, slight asides meant to make literature literally "come alive." But the problem is that we never really get to see the symbols being exploited. We get snippets of Peter Pan's crocodile, a brief glimpse of a Minotaur, a gratuitous shot of Oz's flying monkeys, and a unicorn. Wow.
One could easily see this in the hands of a Spielberg
or a Gilliam -- someone with as much inspiration as mainstream ability. But Softley struggles, relying far too much on his average actors to enliven the material. Frasier's involvement makes one instantly think of mummies (and not in a good way), while Serkis does a decent job of playing reprehensible and villainous. The most confusing character is Dustfinger, essayed with far too much seriousness by Bettany. He maneuvers so randomly between good guy and bad that we don't know whether to root for him or hope he self-immolates.
Yet the main factor working against Inkheart is its lack of wonder and spectacle. You'd figure a film using classic characters from literature as a plot point would be something to marvel at. Unfortunately, we are only in awe of how incredibly dull and unsatisfying it is.