January 29, 2009

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Inkheart (PG)
Brendan Fraser, officially the go-to guy for B-grade kid-friendly action movies, can read people and things into and out of books in the bookworm’s fantasy Inkheart, a dark kid movie.

Sure, there are plenty of dark things on Cartoon Network. But if you’ve got a kid prone to remembering scary things at, say, 3 a.m., perhaps you’ll want to wait on Inkheart.

Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), the central kid in Inkheart, is some kind of old-tween/young-teenager and even she’s scared when the creepy Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) shows up with his ferret and his eye-scar and tells her he’s looking for her dad. Though she doesn’t know it yet, her dad Mo (Fraser) is a silvertongue, someone who, when he reads aloud, can bring to life the things in a book. Years earlier, Mo read aloud from a book called Inkheart and brought out Dustfinger and the villain Capricorn (Andy Serkis). Somehow, when he did that, he also sent in Resa (Sienna Guillory), his wife and Meggie’s mother. Now, Mo is being chased by Capricorn, who wants him to read an even bigger evil guy out of Inkheart, and by Dustfinger, who wants to go back in the book to be with wife Jennifer Connelly (She has one line. Why is she here? Ah, the mysteries of fairy tales.). And, because uppity women of a certain age are always good for comic relief, Meggie’s great aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren, lively but underused) waltzes in and out of the story at random.

I wish Mirren’s appearance here had been a little less random. She might have been able to replace Fraser entirely. Or maybe some of the other minor characters who show up halfway through could have been edited out in favor of more Mirren. For a child-focused movie, particularly one that’s all about books and fairy tales, Inkheart is surprisingly short on fun and whimsy. Mirren’s character, who is sort of fussy and unnaturally direct when talking to Meggie, is at least fun.

Inkheart feels dark, uneven and, frankly, weird. Too much scariness for little kids but not enough charm or cleverness to appeal to adults. C

Rated PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments and brief language. Directed by Iain Softley and written by David Lindsay-Abaire (from a novel by Cornelia Funke), Inkheart is an hour and 43 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.