Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Teach Grant, Nicholas Hamilton, Stephen King, Peter Bogdanovich
Written by: Gary Dauberman, based on a novel by Stephen King
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material
Running Time: 169
Date: 09/05/2019

It Chapter Two (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Clown Scars

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Nearly the longest Hollywood horror movie in history — Ari Aster's director's cut of Midsommar is two minutes longer — It Chapter Two opens Friday in Bay Area theaters.

The running time, 2 hours and 49 minutes, is a setback, but it's also an asset, as it allows plenty of time for the characters to come to life.

It is a requirement to have seen 2017's movie It before venturing into this one, although an intimate knowledge of either Stephen King's 1986 novel or the 1990 TV movie might make a passable substitute.

The previous movie focused on the seven main characters as kids, dealing with the threat of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) during a scary summertime adventure in Derry, Maine, 1989.

But Pennywise is said to re-appear every 27 years, and, at the end of the movie, the middle-schoolers make a pact that they will return, should the terror rise again. It does.

Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only one who remained in Derry for those years, calls the others, one by one, and they answer.

Bill (James McAvoy) is a screenwriter in Hollywood, Bev (Jessica Chastain) is in an abusive relationship, Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comedian, Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk-assessment insurance guy, and Ben (Jay Ryan) has lost his adolescent weight and become a chiseled architect. Otherwise, Stanley (Andy Bean) is a no-show.

The movie's other major flaw besides its length is that it doesn't immediately draw a clear line between the kid and adult versions of the characters. Aside from Richie and Eddie, thanks to their spot-on casting, and Bev because she's the only girl, it takes a while to keep track and to nail down who is supposed to be who.

A few flashbacks at the right moments could have simplified this. But, frankly, McAvoy, even though he's a terrific actor, doesn't quite seem like Jaeden Martell's Bill from the first movie, and neither does the equally terrific Chastain quite capture Sophia Lillis's playfully puckish Bev.

After an alcohol-aided reunion at a Chinese restaurant, the plot requires each character to find a special token, a personal object that ties in to that summer 27 years ago, to perform a ritual.

These searches, shown one at a time, each with its own flashback and scary Pennywise encounter, take up a large middle section.

The showdown also occupies a huge amount of celluloid real estate, though, of course, the less said about that, the better.

The previous movie, only 135 minutes, kept its batch of characters mostly together throughout and concentrated on some truly affecting scares. Its theme, after all, was not simple ghosts or monsters, but the things that haunt the deepest, darkest corners in each of us.

It Chapter Two is less scary; like the early Evil Dead films and other 1980s horrors, its crazy creatures are more likely to inspire surprised laughter than shocked terror.

Much like the horrifying carotid angiography sequence that peaked The Exorcist, the most frightening moments here stem from real-world cruelties — hate-crimes, spousal abuse, and suicide — rather than anything supernatural forces could conjure up.

Weirdly, the movie is also quite funny, with a good selection of belly-laughs coming from Hader's loony one-liners and his hilariously bratty bickering with Ransone.

But it is, overall, deeply committed to bringing these separated characters back together again as a messed-up family.

After their long journey, these goofy Losers will seem once again like folks you'd want to have on your side, should the clown ever come creeping back into your nightmares.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release is a highly recommended package, packed with three discs, a Blu-ray of the movie, a Blu-ray full of extras, and a bonus DVD. A digital copy is also included. Quality is excellent, and director Muschietti provides a commentary track. There are several lengthy featurettes, including comparisons between the younger and older actors, one focusing on Skarsgård's performance, and one featuring Stephen King.

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