Friday, January 23, 2009

Inkheart & Paul Blart

My Wehrenberg Theatres frequent-flyer card finally came through with a free movie ticket, so this afternoon I treated myself to two flicks for the price of one.

The first movie was Inkheart, based on the young-adult fantasy novel by Cornelia Funke. It's a fantasy about people with the power to read literary characters out of their books and into the real world. This causes problems when: (a) real people disappear back into book-world; (b) some fictional people want to go back; and (c) other, really nasty characters decide to stay and set up a real-world criminal empire.

I went to Inkheart with a little trepidation, having read some discouraging reviews: chiefly by curmudgeonly critics who hadn't read the book. Roger Ebert actually claimed that a child having seen this film might never read a book again. This just shows what a colossal shmuck he is. Kids have been crazy about this book (and its two sequels) for years, judging by the feedback I have received from my review and the bestseller status of the whole series. If reading the book hasn't stopped them wanting to read, certainly seeing the movie won't do it. I mean, kids deserve a little respect. Their ability to distinguish fantasy from reality is stronger than some adults realize.

Another criticism leveled at this movie was that it didn't have any magic in it. If that's true, I don't know what magic is. It absolutely bursts with magic, humor, action, and warmth towards its main characters, even the particularly flawed ones. It strains at the seams, so loaded with fairy-tale and storybook imagery is it, from the tornado that swept Dorothy into Oz to the raft that carried Huck Finn down the Mississippi. Up to a certain point, it seems to follow the plot of Inkheart as faithfully as could be expected while necessarily pressing it into a cinematic mold. My only quibble is the very weak ending, which I'll wager was the result of an eleventh-hour decision to put the kibosh on any possibility of a sequel. It does suffer a bit from wrapping-up-too-neatly-itis and, again, from "when the #$%& is this movie going to end" syndrome.

But it fares very well in the special effects department, and the actors are all up to the job. Brendan Fraser was chosen to play Mo, the "silvertongue" whose reading ability started the whole adventure, not because he is typecast as a "hero dad" (cf. Journey to the Center of the Earth and the whole Mummy series), but because Cornelia Funke had him in mind when she wrote the books, and even dedicated one of them to him. Helen Mirren, Andy Serkis, Jim Broadbent, Paul Bettany, Sienna Guillory, and young Eliza Bennett are only some of the talent that fills this film with enjoyable faces and memorable characters. And if the story seemed to tie itself up too easily, well...that would be the fault of whoever decided to end it just when it was beginning. Look out for my reviews of the subsequent books, Inkspell and Inkdeath, coming soon.

My second feature was a freebie. Even so, I was loath to walk out of it before the movie ended. It seems I always pick a movie I hate when I have a free pass. This time my regrettable choice was Paul Blart: Mall Cop. I assumed it would be good for two reasons. First: because it got decent reviews (compared to Inkheart, anyway). Second: because the showing I tried to see last weekend was sold out. It was so sold out, in fact, that there was a huge queue pouring out of the building (which has room inside it for a rope line of considerable length), even longer than the line for Christmas Day. I gathered it must have been a smash hit. So I went to see it and spent the first half-hour struggling with an urge to get up and leave.

Eventually, the movie settled into a semi-enjoyable spoof of Die Hard, featuring a gang of nasties dressed as Santa's Helpers who take over a New Jersey mall on Black Friday, and Kevin James as the lone, lonely, sad-sack mall cop who battles hypoglycemia, an inferiority complex, and his own crushing mediocrity while trying to save his daughter, a girl he likes, and other hostages from the robbers.

Yes, there is a certain cleverness to the way Paul Blart uses everyday items that you can buy at the mall to thwart a team of extreme-sport thugs and their ludicrous plan. There are a few laughs - you have to appreciate the filmmakers' flair for absurdity - but even as it consciously razzes the eminently razzable Die Hard formula, it follows said formula to the last jot and tittle. The result is that you feel more like squirming than laughing most of the time. You may even get one of those crawly feelings Andy Kaufman specialized in giving, the feeling that the joke is on you.

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