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‘Inkheart’ fails to deliver

Lisa Miller
Special to the Sun

The heavy-handed adaptation of the fairytale, “Inkheart,” takes-off promisingly only to land with a thud. Based on the novel by Cornelia Funke, the film fails to capitalize on its most imaginative ideas and miscasts perennially boyish Brendan Fraser as a grieving husband.

Mo Folchart, a single father and traveling book-restorer, is a rare “silvertongue,” able to bring book characters to life by reading their descriptions aloud. Unfortunately, he only learns of his gift after reading the obscure “Inkheart” aloud to his young daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett). Several characters, including one medieval baddie, crossover into our world, but the book takes Mo’s wife Resa (Sienna Guillory), in exchange. Since then, Mo has given up reading aloud until he can find another copy of the rare book from which to read his wife back.

One releasee is a flawed good-guy known as Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), arriving along with his sidekick, and apparently the story’s smartest character, an adorable weasel able to understand and follow Dustfinger’s complex orders. Dustfinger has retained the ability to produce fire by rubbing his hands, a phenomenom employed in this telling primarily as by-the-way entertainment.

Though the plot of the Inkheart book within the “Inkheart” story is unclear, Dustfinger means to return to his lovely wife (Jennifer Connelly) who remains within the book’s pages. Alas, Dustfinger’s character is run through a self-development speed-course that calls for his overnight transition from cowardly imp to hero.

In both “Inkheart” stories, the villain is Capricorn (Andy Serkis). Having made the leap into our world, Capricorn is pleased with his lifestyle in a spacious, tumbledown castle replete with a dungeon. In order to maintain his estate, the villain kidnaps a stuttering silvertongue whose readings produce less than 100-percent character crossovers. This brilliant idea functions as an oft-repeated joke and it would be a good one if each crossover character did not exhibit the same defect.

In an effort to raise its status by associating itself with the classics, the story brings characters to life from “Peter Pan,” “Arabian Nights,” and “Wizard of Oz,” only to drop them like hot potatoes. A similar fate befalls Helen Mirren, playing Mo’s great aunt Elinor, a turbaned bibliophile and fabulous curmudgeon. Shining briefly during the film’s opening scenes she is soon dropped into a whirlwind of frantic action that no longer appreciates her unique qualities. The marvelous Jim Broadbent, appearing as “Inkheart’s” author, is asked to wax and wane between scholar and dullard to suit the story’s needs.

Lip service is paid to the physical and romantic attributes of books, but little emotion makes it through the clutter to reach the audience. The pleasures of our favorite reads live eternally in our hearts, but compared to such bliss, “Inkheart” is barely an inkblot.

Rainn Wilson injects messy doses of fun into this misbehaving comedy. Forty-something loser Fish (Wilson), never got over being dumped by Vesuvius, an ’80s heavy metal band that went on to achieve fame and fortune. Fast-forward 20 years to find unemployed Fish sleeping in his sister’s attic, when he is persuaded to serve as a last-minute substitute drummer for his shy nephew’s (Josh Gad) high school band.

The group, A.D.D., is led by moody songwriter-guitarist Curtis (Teddy Geiger), a presence best understood by the band’s depressed bass player, Amelia (Emma Stone). Overage Fish functions as the group’s wild-child and the keeper of its life force. Fish, though in constant need of baby-sitting, gives Curtis a confidence boost. An accidentally filmed practice session lands a naked, drum-playing Fish on YouTube where he and the band become an overnight sensation.

Jeff Garlin is hilarious as the brother-in-law secretly rooting for Fish. Pop singer Teddy Geiger overreaches for the little-boy lost, but is reasonably talented and should appeal to the teenybopper crowd. The film casts Christina Applegate as a band member’s brittle mom yearning to realize her own youthful dreams. Juvenile crotch and puke gags are injected into the film’s otherwise adult tone, but its likeable star is sufficient to temper the comic mismatches. By the film’s final scenes Fish becomes the best possible version of himself and we’re squarely in his corner.


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