Based on Cornelia Funke’s 2003 fantasy novel for kids, director Ian Softley (The Wings of the Dove) makes a half-hearted adaptation that’s further diminished by Brendon Fraser’s signature Boy Scout performance as Mo Flochart.
Mo is a “silvertongue” — somebody able to physically conjure up characters and elements of reality from any book that they read out loud. While on vacation in Italy with his 12-year-old daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), bookbinder Mo finds what he’s been searching for — an adventure novel entitled Inkheart with which he plans to bring back his wife Resa (Sienna Guillory), who was lost to the manuscript some years ago in exchange for a one of its fictional characters.
Fire-juggler Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) persuades Mo to obtain the book so that he can return to his literary life within its pages. Meggie realizes that she too is a silvertongue right about the time that Inkheart’s diabolical literary-figure-made-flesh Capricorn (Andy Serkis) makes his move with his minions to take over the world. Winged monkeys and a minotaur that you don’t get a good look at make up some of the mediocre special effects in this unsatisfying kid’s movie.
Through flashback exposition we learn that when Meggie was 3 Mo read aloud from a book entitled Inkheart, of which there are only five remaining copies, bringing to life Dustfinger, Capricorn and a slew of lesser characters.
Now on vacation, Mo and Meggie are houseguests to Meggie’s wealthy aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren), whose antique-appointed estate becomes an easy target for Capricorn and his crew to tear apart. Capricorn kidnaps Meggie and Mo tracks down Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent), the author of Inkheart, to get some much needed assistance in retrieving his daughter before she’s made to read into existence more people and artifacts to aid in Capricorn’s dastardly plans.
It’s crushing to see an extraordinary actress like Helen Mirren (The Queen) try to feel her way through a movie so lacking in purpose that the audience never really knows what’s at stake. As it turns out, Mo’s wife Resa inexplicably has not been hiding in the pages of Inkheart for all these years, but rather has been living as a mute (her muteness is also never properly unexplained) prisoner servant in Italy.
The story also falls apart on crucial issues of protagonist and antagonist. Namely, who is Resa other than a fading romantic idea for Mo and Meggie, and what exactly is Capricorn’s plot? Capricorn is by far the film’s most intriguing character, and Andy Serkis eats the scenery like Johnny Rotten at a Sex Pistols performance. But Serkis’ admirable energy is not nearly enough to compensate for the film’s inexcusable lack of emotional or narrative grist. The film feels like some renaissance fair project. Even the gifted Broadbent seems like a battery-operated character as the bumbling Fenoglio.
There’s little evidence onscreen to demonstrate Cornelia Funke’s status as the German J.K. Rowling. While it seems possible that the following two books in the trilogy (Inkspell and Inkdeath) will eventually make their way to the big screen, there’s nothing in Inkheart to excite audiences about the proposition. Grade: C-
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