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Bob Garver's review of "Inkheart"

January 26, 2009|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

January is typically not a good time to see newly-released movies. Don't get me wrong, it's a great time to go to the movies, but the best choices are almost always holdovers from December. Christmas releases stay strong, and limited-release Oscar contenders go wide. New movies cower from this competition, and studios treat this time like a dumping ground for movies that they expect to flop. "Inkheart" is definitely one of those flops that has been dumped on us.

The film looks tempting on paper. Mortimer Folchart (Brendan Fraser) is a Silvertongue. He can read things in books and they come to life. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize this when he reads a book called "Inkheart". This is not a book you want to read when you're a Silvertongue. There's like 50 bad guys, and Folchart pulls them all out. He also pulls out the hero Dustfinger (Paul Bettany). The downside of this ability (apart from summoning evil) is that someone in the room has to go into the book to compensate for whatever's been lost. Folchart's wife is sacrificed, and he spends the next 12 years looking for another copy of the book so he can undo his mistake.

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He and his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) find the book early in the story, and we go from there. Dustfinger desperately wants to go back in the book. The bad guys desperately want to stay out. Folchart hasn't read aloud since he lost his wife, so he's not quite sure what he should do. He and Meggie get captured by the bad guys, led by Capricorn (Andy Serkis). They want to use him to read out things like the treasure from "Ali Baba". He reads out one of the thieves. This Silvertongue gift, it has a mind of its own.

The most intriguing aspect of the movie is the concept of the Silvertongue gift itself. Can Folchart just write something and read it and make it happen ("he read his wife out of 'Inkheart'")? Can he just read his grocery list and save himself a trip to the store? And the really cynical one: Can he just read out a much prettier girl to replace his wife? Thinking about these questions is more intriguing than anything onscreen.

Sadly, the film doesn't have as much fun with its premise as one would hope. The things brought out of the books usually turn out to be ugly special effects. Academy Award winners Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent show up in small parts, but neither add much to the action and their performances seem forced. Perhaps most distracting is that the rules of the Silvertongue keep changing depending on how the plot wants to use it.

Go see "Inkheart" and play Bob Garver's Popcorn Games:

o Eat a piece every time Folchart reads from a book, but nothing gets taken back into the book. The film forgets this detail about a third of the way in.

o Eat three pieces when Mirren's character lists the places that books have taken her and she mentions Middle Earth. Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" movies) is the film's villain.

o Eat an oddly-shaped piece whenever Dustfinger does something really cowardly, and cites "I'm written that way" as an excuse. He's supposed to be the hero of "Inkheart" the book. Why is he written to be so cowardly?

o Eat a million pieces whenever someone explains why the book is called "Inkheart". Don't worry, it never happens.

o Eat a particularly tasty-looking piece whenever the characters get help from Toto from "The Wizard of Oz". Even in this movie, Toto's still awesome.

"Inkheart" doesn't know what to do with its own good idea. The premise presents all kind of interesting possibilities, but the one that director Iain Softley chooses to explore is a disappointingly straightforward adventure. But what do you expect? It's a new release in January.

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