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With: Brendan Fraser, Eliza Hope Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Andy Serkis, Jim Broadbent, Sienna Guillory, Jennifer Connelly
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire, based on a novel by Cornelia Funke
Directed by: Iain Softley
MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments and brief language
Running Time: 106
Date: 12/11/2008

Inkheart (2009)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Bungle Book

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Inkheart is more or less a distant second cousin to The Princess Bride (1987); they're both based on fantasy books for young people and reading is a part of their plots, but that's about where the comparison stops. Whereas The Princess Bride is warmly crisp and unerringly funny and breathlessly romantic, Inkheart is a jagged, irritating mess. If the goal of a fantasy is to invite a viewer into a unique and imaginative new world, then Inkheart forgot to send out invitations.

Based on the 2003 book by Cornelia Funke, Inkheart tells the story of Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser), who discovers that he's a "silvertongue," which means that when he reads aloud from books, he can bring the characters and objects to life. Unfortunately, this also means that people from real life disappear into the book, such as his wife (Sienna Guillory). Years later, accompanied by his teen daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), he looks for a copy of an ultra-rare book in Italy in the hopes of restoring his family, and comes across all the various villains and other unsavory characters that he once unleashed from its pages. At some point, they seek refuge with Meggie's snippy, sour great-aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren), and the aid of the book's original author, the lumpy Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent), who is utterly fascinated at the sight of his own, living creations. It's an interesting idea, but instead of imagining an equally clever story and conclusion, the film eventually collapses into a series of chases and fights, with a big Raiders of the Lost Ark-style special effects blowout ending.

Along the way, director Iain Softley adopts a kind of twitchy chopping to indicate magic spells or flashbacks, with shaky, truncated action sequences. Not to mention that it's all relentlessly depressing, not for little kids and not particularly appealing to teens or 'tweens either (teen boys will rarely go to see anything with 'heart' in the title). In a film totally lacking in wonder, it's also no wonder that the film eventually grossed less than 1/3 its production budget. Brendan Fraser usually has the ability to elevate terrible films to some kind of warm, comic plateau, but here he seems trapped by the excessive, dour tone. However, Paul Bettany lends a bit of charm as a fire-breather who wants to get back to his family in the book, and Andy Serkis (the actor/model behind Gollum in The Lord of the Rings) appears in the flesh as the nasty villain. Look for Jennifer Connelly in a bit part.

DVD Details: New Line has rolled the dice and put together a DVD package aimed at families, perhaps hoping that they'll make their money back before word gets out on this one. As such, it comes with "widescreen" and digital versions for cineastes, and a "full screen" (i.e. pan-and-scan) version for families. In the only extra, actress Eliza Hope Bennett reads a passage from the book that didn't make it into the film (an odd extra for a film that doesn't really care about books). The 3-minute sequence comes with Cornelia Funke illustrations.

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