(L-r) EWAN McGREGOR as Elmont, ELEANOR TOMLINSON as Isabelle and NICHOLAS HOULT as Jack in New Line Cinemais and Legendary Picturesi action adventure "JACK THE GIANT SLAYER," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
2 stars out of 4
As we lurch out of the winter wasteland and inch our way closer to the bounty of summer, we the audience will not quite suffer through another spring of blah. This is the time of year when we'll get a whole bunch of "kind-of" movies. "Kind-of" meaning they weren't putrid enough to be sentenced to January or February but not quite good enough to make the warm weather roster. "Jack the Giant Slayer" is the exact type of holding-pattern movie studios use to kill time.
Based on the ancient fable "Jack the Giant Killer" and the better-known, far more tame "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Slayer" never gets close to straying far from the part fantasy/adventure construct. Nothing about it is original and it is to cinema what Hamburger Helper is to filet mignon.
After blowing everybody's mind with his now-classic 1996 crime-noir thriller "The Usual Suspects", director Bryan Singer has taken the path of least resistance and has become just another generic action gun for hire. He made the serviceable "Apt Pupil," two passable "X-Men" flicks, a very disappointing "Superman" reboot, the clunky "Valkyrie" and a couple of made-for-TV yawners. "Slayer" further continues Singer's downward spiral.
Set in the fictional medieval-flavored kingdom of Cloister, "Slayer" is the unholy spawn of "The Princess Bride" and "Lord of the Rings" by way of "The Polar Express." All of the human characters are dressed in either puffy royal garb or peasant rags and everyone speaks with go-to period piece British accents.
The giants -- a most slovenly bunch with highly questionable personal hygiene -- are filmed via motion-capture and are given excessive CGI flourishes. In addition to looking glaringly artificial, their movement is awkwardly robotic and extreme. One scene where one of the giants prepares a meal will force all who watch it to stop eating their popcorn in mid-chew and could possibly induce many a Technicolor yawn. It is disgusting beyond belief and one of the many feeble stabs at comic relief.
After an impressive turn as the lead in the recent zombie love story "Warm Bodies," Nicholas Hoult takes a slight professional back step as the title character, a cherub-faced farm boy who botches a mission to sell the family horse and returns only with what a monk tells him are magic beans. During his quest to unload the steed, Jack comes to the aid of Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), the textbook fair maiden/princess who regularly escapes the confines of the royal castle out of sheer boredom.
Isabelle is the daughter of the widower King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) and is betrothed to the King's handpicked successor Roderick (Stanley Tucci). An otherwise gifted actor, Tucci is reduced here to glaring caricature thanks to a bad haircut, even worse orthodonture and a level of moustache-twirling overreach not seen in motion pictures since the silent era. It's embarrassing to watch.
The screenplay, by a four-man-committee (which includes longtime Singer collaborator Christopher McQuarrie), is off-the-charts bipolar. Passages of serene, warm and fuzzy storybook placidity are followed by harrowing violence, indiscriminant and graphic bloodletting that push the "PG-13" rating to the breaking point. Parents take close note -- the trailers that make this film out to be a rollicking family-friendly adventure are extremely misleading and not at all indicative of the actual content.
Buoying the film for the duration is the ever-sturdy Ewan McGregor as the king's principal guard whose interaction with Roderick, Jack and Isabelle mark the only points in the film approaching dramatic believability. But as strong as he is, even McGregor can't save the last act, which ends in a manner that redefines the phrase "cop-out."
Even those who feel overly compelled to see the film are advised to wait for the home video release (which should arrive before summer officially kicks in) and the word-of-mouth from their friends unfortunate enough to pay top dollar for the theatrical release. (Warner Bros.)