|Film review: Stormbreaker.
||Sunday 6th Aug, 2006 | 9:40 pm
Oh dear me. The start of a new franchise this ain’t. Someone spent a lot of money on this film, and boy, was that ever a mistake. Big stars, big explosions, big names in fight choreography can’t save this turgid, bipolar rehash of tried-and-tested ideas from being a flop, which despite an epic marketing campaign it’s looking to be, playing to nearly empty auditoriums and all but disappearing from cinema listings in the country that should be its spiritual home before it even opens in the US.
The premise is simple: take all the James Bond clichés you can think of, from evil plots to unleash a virus across the world to the spy who is our main character escaping peril through the unlikely use of various gadgets. And then make the main character a child. No, it’s not an original idea (cf. Spy Kids, Agent Cody Banks et al) but then, not is Harry Potter, and that never did him any harm.
Like Harry Potter, this movie is adapted from a successful YA novel, but unfortunately, in adapting his own work, Anthony Horrowitz didn’t learn the valuable lessons taught by the Potter box office monsters. I may not have been a big fan of the first Potter film, but they got the tone right. Where the first Harry Potter and, I presume, Horrowitz’s book gleefully mixed daft British humour, straight action and some unoriginal but exciting action scenes, the first Harry Potter movie downplayed the silliness (gone were tube map-shaped scars, headless ghosts and pink umbrellas were peripheral and subdued etc) and upped the dark gothic romanticism, Stormbreaker just doesn’t know whether it’s trying to be a serious spy story or a tongue-in-cheek parody, so just mashes the two together and hopes for the best. Unfortunately, the effect is like mixing the wrong paints. The end result is a mess, neither of the colours you began with, but something else you don’t want. While you have the scenes of our hero, Alex Rider, done as straight as possible, you also have Bill Nighy and whoever played the female baddie hamming it up as though they were in a sketch comedy show. While you have gorgeous sets, intricately designed to the highest possible standard, you also have shots of fake seagulls about as realistic as the singing birds in The Producers and stray pistol shots making dead pigeons fall from the sky. Undoubtedly cool (if extremely unlikely) fight scenes with our hero using a rope in full martial arts stylee to knock out half a dozen hefty builders are contrasted with that bad-guy henchwoman and a babysitter having a totally unfunny slapstick fight.
The great cast is wasted. Fry appears for about ten seconds in a half-arsed performance as the Q equivalent, all of whose gadgets of course HAPPEN to be exactly what Alex needs at various points in the movie, and who was responsible for one of the most shameful instances of product placement I’ve ever seen. McGreggor is lucky, not even surviving the title sequence. Rourke just looks bored.
And then there’s Alex Pettyfer. Not as attractive as the posters made him look, and so wooden the term ‘chiselled looks’ sounds literal, I can’t see any way the boys of his age, the target audience here, would want to be like him. I’m almost entirely sure the vast majority of him would much rather punch the shit out of him. In fairness, it’s not really Pettryfer’s fault. The script requires him to never show a shred of emotion, act so cocky when undercover that it is immediately obvious he is a spy, get the girl in under three lines, possess superhuman abilities in combat and vehicular control and worst of all, wisecrack. Alex Rider never puts a foot wrong. As a result, I found myself really hoping he would die, as he blatantly would have done in the situation.
This could have been a parody along the lines of Johnny English. That would have excused the utter turd of a plot, which must have taken as much thought to conceive as does flatulence, if that. Utterly predictable, the only surprise in the whole film was that the expected ‘I AM your father’ twist never came, thank goodness – the film wouldn’t’ve been above it. To be done as seriously as it tried to take itself, as a heartfelt homage, it would have to have been much better written, and without the Beano characterisation. The only part that came close to that kind of standard was a side-story about Alex’s training in Wales, which ended in farce and was totally unnecessary to the story.
Definitely not a film worth seeing. When the highlight of a whole film is its brief shots of London (admittedly looking stunning), you know you are in trouble. Avoid like a bright green vial of virus juice.