Monday, January 18, 2010

The Lovely Bones (**)

The Lovely Bones. 139 mins. PG-13. Directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens & Peter Jackson. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Saiorse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, and Susan Sarandon.

It pains me to say, but with this misguided adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestselling book The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson has jumped the shark. Gone is the brilliant director behind the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, and in his place is some unfocused, tech-heavy hack struggling mightily to juggle six different tones at once. It's almost borderline incompetent at times, but then Jackson will pull off a nifty visual trick and remind you why he was so good in the first place. The movie starts off well enough. Set in mid-1970, The Lovely Bones follows our young protagonist, Susie Salmon (Atonement's Saiorse Ronan), as she navigates first love and a frenetic but loving family life before being brutally raped and murdered by the neighborhood creep (a cartoonish, but effective Stanley Tucci). It's at that point that the movie starts losing it. Much has been made of Jackson's unhealthy focus on the afterlife, rendered in glorious yet totally distracting CGI that pretty much kills any narrative progression or audience investment in its tracks. Susie provides a near-constant voiceover from the grave, but the movie never recovers. Mark Wahlberg stumbles around trying to look tortured and anguished - he doesn't come off well. Rachel Weisz as the absentee mom is mostly MIA, and Susan Sarandon also jumps into a few scenes as an absurd old dame, sent to the Salmon house to brighten things up after Susie's death. Jackson tries his hand at juggling multiple tones - one minute the movie's a broad comedy, the next a police procedural, and the next a moody crime thriller. And that's just in the real world segments of the movie - I can't even tell you what kind of tone Jackson was aiming for with all that CGI afterlife rubbish. I kept being reminded of the Robin Williams crapfest What Dreams May Come during those scenes. When The Lovely Bones finally ended after its 2.5 hour running time, I could only shake my head at how far the mighty had fallen. In one fell swoop, Jackson managed to ruin a relatively good book, while tarnishing his stellar directing reputation. What 1941 is to Spielberg, The Lovely Bones is to Jackson. It's another unpleasant reminder that our film idols are only human.

- John


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