Sunday, July 30, 2006

Stormbreaker: both wet and dry at the same time.

The Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz go down a storm with its target audience, I'm told, and the idea of a teenage spy is just as much up my alley now as it would have been when I was a teenager, wish fulfillment and all that. The trouble is, Stormbreaker (based on the first novel in the series, unlike the James Bond films) comes off less like the terrific Spy Kids movies, Kim Possible or even Agent Cody Banks (the first one, not the sequel) and more like Joe 90. Except with an even duller hero. But with the same kind of acting. (Of course, opening it in the wake (rimshot!) of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and with Cars coming out the week after might not have been the wisest move either.)
Hard to pinpoint exactly where this movie falls down, since there are so many potential choices. For a start, it wants to be gritty but it doesn't want to alienate family audiences - so on the one hand you get an opening with Alex's uncle (Ewan McGregor) getting offed by an evil spy in a black helicopter and a later moment where the spy who killed him shows how Bad he is by offing a forklift driver for dropping a box; but on the other hand neither is actually shown onscreen, and you also have a spy boss played as a comic character by Bill Nighy, and a villain's right hand woman (Missi Pyle) who comes off like Herr Flick from 'Allo 'Allo in drag. Make your minds up, people. (And as for the fight between the latter and our hero's housekeeper (Alicia Silverstone!)... let's just say anything that reminds me of the liveaction Thunderbirds is not good.)
Then we've got the action. Although Donnie Yen's listed in the opening titles, there ain't that much martial arts on view and the biggest such fight comes early on; plus for all the thrills the movie engenders we might as well be watching QVC. It says a lot for the movie that it failed to have me enthralled with its climax on a high place, because I haaaate heights (compare it to the climax of King Kong with Naomi Watts dangling from the Empire State). I blame director Geoffrey Sax for this and quite a lot of the movie's other faults - after this and White Noise, I now know what to do the next time I see his name on a movie. But Horowitz's scripting has to take some of the blame; it could well be a better book than a movie, but we don't really get to know Alex or feel any kind of empathy or him, and the story's just not that interesting (even the kids sitting behind me wondered about a few of the plotholes).
And really, Alex Pettyfer is a black hole in the screen as Alex Rider; some of the cast are wasted (like Robbie Coltrane as the Prime Minister - cheekily, more reminiscent of Gordon Brown than Tony Blair!), others are bad. He's bad. If you could work up any emotions, it would be for villain Mickey Rourke (looking less natural here than in Sin City) to win through; instead the movie just lies there like something that got lost on its way to Children's BBC, wasting opportunities left and right, and chucking in endless ill-advised songs to boot. (Alan Parker's score is also not exactly up there with Michael Giacchino's work on Alias either, although his theme for Alex in action is okay... a bit close to True Lies though.)
There's no way this is going to be a smash when the Weinstein Company unleashes this Stateside; in fact, if this does become the first in a series of movies I'll be very surprised. Funded through the National Lottery-supporting UK Film Council, and another reason for me not to like them; but not un-cute Sarah Bolger may be worth keeping an eye on. If not in this movie.

1 comment:

The Archivist said...

I have to admit; those are some interesting shortcomings you pointed out.

But even Spy Kids began to suck around the third movie.