By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Watching director Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Slayer,” a half-hearted variation on the beanstalk fairytale, is like being the fan of a middling sports franchise. You root for them to improve and somehow wow you, but know full well it’s fat chance that they will. After showing us all his moves in the first ten minutes, it’s apparent that Jack is just a dull boy.
Still, aside from the cynics and depressives among us, our hardwired capacity for optimism hopes some redeeming magic might yet surface before the final buzzer…a consolation for our indulgence. Again, our fealty is chastened. And, as our good sense returns, we wonder how the director of “X-Men” (2000) could conjure such mediocrity.
Continuing the sports metaphor beyond any acceptable length, there is at least the minor reward of being in the venue. Just as sitting in the arena or ballpark elicits all sorts of imaginings, when located in the land of fables we’re reminded of a time and place when anything was possible. The mind wanders from the screen…and that’s a good thing.
Meanwhile, whether we’re paying attention or not, because we hold sacred that the show must go on regardless of whether it’s good or bad, good old Jack goes through the motions. A long-winded preface told us all about the kingdom, the magic crown, and how powers unleashed by those proverbial beans will bring a visit from those terrible giants.
At the politically incorrect risk of engendering hate mail from mythical giants, you have to get a load of these guys. Shades of special effects genius Ray Harryhausen, who pioneered the methodology of scale, these gargantuas are really ugly, especially their leader (Bill Nighy). Dig John Kassir as the toadying head popping out of his shoulder.
In contrast, Jack, who true to form accepts beans in return for the horse he was supposed to trade for food and roofing thatch, is a comely and agreeable young fellow portrayed by Nicholas Hoult. Of course the story must romantically wend its way to Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who he’ll be trying to rescue from the giants. She’s pretty, too.
Rounding out the perfunctory dramatis personae, Ian McShane is King Brahmwell, the hoodwinked monarch of Cloister; Stanley Tucci does the deceitful-chief-advisor-and- suitor-to-his boss’s-daughter thing under a flattering toupee he might want to import into real life; and Ewan McGregor is Elmont, the handsome, noble and brave chief of guards.
Expectedly, Tucci’s lousy, stinking, rotten, fraudulent Roderick, through his megalomaniacal greed, ostensibly sets free those terrible forces that were better left dormant. Along the way we’re treated to a litany of the usual, pretentious lore, to which we must impatiently mutter, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK, OK, OK, we know, good for you.”
There are no surprises, not even that we’ve bamboozled ourselves into thinking this film, like that forlorn team we had such hopes for, might still be victorious. Oh, but we are slightly confounded by the audience-limiting, PG-13 rating. Not that Mr. & Mrs. Arrogant don’t shirk the rules anyway, but the sensibilities here are definitely 10 to 13.
The gratuitous violence tips the scale. With the accent on repulsive and cannibalism, poor or cheap parents who forsake the babysitter and tote their under 6-year-old, could create a bed-wetter who grows up to be either a serial killer or a lawyer. Smuggled-in 6 to 10-year-olds might someday lean to obesity and feel their votes don’t count in elections.
Among other fallout that could result from this half fable/ half horror flick’s inability to slot suitably into a demographic, H.S. seniors aiming to punish themselves for seeing this “baby stuff” might opt to attend their safety schools. Whereas men in their 20’s will have an urge to shave their heads, wear sunglasses, become stockbrokers and drive BMWs.
Film critics, on the other hand, averse to boring readers with the hackneyed details of this typically pedestrian excuse for selling yesterday’s special effects, might exhibit a proclivity for suffusing their reviews with a lot of inane nonsense. All the same, it behooves them to note that both heroes and their damsel in distress are well-scrubbed.
But alas, unable to carry their deficient surroundings to any sort of cinema victory, odds are their talents would be better realized if they were traded to a superior movie…one with a championship attitude. As it stands, “Jack the Giant Slayer,” comprised of a ragtag assemblage of over the hill elements, can’t climb its beanstalk to any winning heights.
“Jack the Giant Slayer,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. Pictures release directed by Bryan Singer and stars Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson and Stanley Tucci. Running time: 114 minutes
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