Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Eliza Hope Bennett, Sienna Guillory, Helen Mirren
David Lindsey-Abaire (based upon novel by Cornelia Funke)
Based upon an internationally best-selling novel by Cornelia Funke, "Inkheart" has all the ingredients for yet another hit family film for Brendan Fraser.
Fraser stars as Mo Folchart, a bookbinder who wiles away his days scouring the European countrysides with his 12-year-old daughter Meggie (newcomer Eliza Hope Bennett) in search a very rare copy of the book "Inkheart."
You see, Mo is what is known as a Silvertongue, a storyteller who is so uniquely gifted that when he reads aloud from a book he, quite literally, brings the story to life. One day, when Meggie was just a small girl, Mo read aloud the book "Inkheart" and brought forth a variety of dastardly characters including the evil Capricorn (Andy Serkis) and Dustfinger (Paul Bettany). Unfortunately, tis' the rule of it all that when one character comes out of a book another must go in and at that very moment Mo's beloved wife, Resa (Sienna Guillory), is lost in the pages of "Inkheart."
When Meggie and Mo discover that both Capricorn and Dustfinger are on their trail, they take refuge in the home of Great Aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren). Of course, they are eventually captured and this, inevitably, leads to fantastical altercations, mysical encounters and creatures of all sorts from flying monkeys to unicorns to that beloved dog named Toto (I'm not kidding!) and, finally, Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent), the actual author of "Inkheart."
I would love to tell you that "Inkheart" is the first great family film of 2009. Unfortunately, despite the presence of three Oscar winners, a Pulitzer Prize winning screenwriter in David Lindsey-Abaire and the always family friendly Brendan Fraser, "Inkheart" possesses a surprising lack of heart and, perhaps even more jarringly, special effects that feel unimaginative and disjointed.
Virtually every aspect of "Inkheart" feels inconsistent, from the timeline to the storyline along with the special effects and the characters themselves.
For example, it's never really clear exactly when all this takes place. While much of the action takes place in what appears to be an ancient castle, virtually everyone possesses modern technology and the castle itself even features a spotlight. This begs the question "Why does Mo spend all his time scouring rare bookstores?" Has he bothered to check Amazon? Ebay?
Additionally, the rules in "Inkheart" change constantly and, by film's end, it becomes clear that it is the Silvertongue who truly controls the entire scenario. So, ummmm, why couldn't they do this in the film's first 15 minutes? Everyone's life gets risked unnecessarily and all they had to do was, ummm, well I won't ruin it for you...but, the ending felt like a bit of a cop out to me.
Even the special effects in "Inkheart" have a been there/seen that feeling to them and, at times, felt almost amateurish during several of the film's transition scenes.
Brendan Fraser does his usual fine job here, though it's hard not to feel like perhaps he's done one too many family films in such a short span. At various times, Fraser's Mo brought back memories of everything from his "Mummy" films to "Curious George."
The supporting cast actually fares better and manages to keep "Inkheart" afloat.
Paul Bettany, as a bad guy who's really a pretty good guy, adds the layers of action and emotion that I'd hoped for in Fraser's performance, while Helen Mirren is an outright hoot and Great Aunt Elinor. Andy Serkis seems to relish the opportunity to play somebody not hidden behind make-up, while Jim Broadbent gives a befuddled amusement to the bewildered Fenoglio. The third Oscar winner who shows up in the film is a cameo appearance by Jennifer Connelly, Bettany's real life wife.
The film's break-out performance, however, belongs to newcomer Eliza Hope Bennett. As an added bonus, Bennett is the voice behind the film's closing credits song and its a performance worth the stay.
Unfortunately, despite having remarkable potential, director Iain Softley tries to throw almost everything at the screen and very little of it actually sticks. Inconsistent and uninvolving, "Inkheart" is one fantasy tale that is disappointing in reality.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic