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Saturday, March 2, 2013

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER Review. Better On Paper

By: MattInRC

The Medieval-era fairy tale JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is big on visuals but stumbles in key places.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is one of those films which you can understand why it didn't receive a dance card to the Summer Blockbuster party. Exciting in parts but full of blah malaise in many others, Jack is disappointing in its totality and nearly offensive in its willingness to rip off other films.

Jack (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies) is a poor young farmhand, a dreamer raised on fairy tales of giants and far-away adventures. Although his uncle's farm is on the brink of failure, he still dreams of experiencing the glories he read about as a child. In many ways, he's not very different from Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson, Alice in Wonderland), who's similarly spellbound as she receives the same stories in her father's opulent castle. Unaware these tales actually existed, Isabelle and Jack learn of giants who roamed the Earth long ago, engaging mankind in a war made possible by huge magic bean stalks that linked the human world to those located in the clouds above. Since then, the giants have retreated to their prison in the sky, planning their next assault while the attacks became the stuff of legend on Earth.

When those same giants return, via an evil deception by the king's adviser Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci, Captain America: TFA), mankind once again summons its strength against an enemy it cannot defeat by strength alone. Their only hope is the long-lost magic crown that can control the minds of the giants, which led to their first defeat all those years ago. When one of the beans sprouts a new stalk into the sky, taking Isbaelle with it, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane, Snow White and The Huntsman) summons Elmont (Ewan McGregor, Star Wars: Episode III) and his elite team to find her. They are unaware that Roderick holds the magic crown, and that he's planning to usurp Brahmwell once he controls the giants. When Elmont and Jack learn of Roderick's plan, they seek to free Isabelle and warn the kingdom before it falls to the impending attack.

On paper, Jack looks poised for a dominating opening and a good run through the Spring: it's directed by Bryan Singer (Superman Returns), written by The Usual Suspect's Christopher McQuarrie, and sports an all-star cast. But planning only gets one so far, and Jack suffers greatly under several avoidable inhibitors. McQuarrie's script takes on too many liberties with the original story, trading the cow for a horse, and placing Jack in the middle of a theft-gone-awry as a monk tries to steal the beans from the castle keep. McQuarrie should also be flogged for introducing what could be worst character of the year in the two-headed giant Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy and John Kassir). What's so unforgivable here is that the smaller head looks and sounds just like LOTR's Gollum; frankly, I'm surprised the studio wasn't sued for its illegal use of the likeness. Every time he appeared, our test audience belted out uncontrolled laughter as if they too recognized the connection.

Hoult and McGregor have good chemistry, but never have time to dramatically gel on-screen, instead constantly reacting to imagined action in front of a green screen. Tomlinson's performance is throw-away, but that's partially to blame on McQuarrie's paper-thin character development. All of this cumulatively builds up to a final action piece that's fun but instantly forgettable the moment the lights come on. In fact, nothing about Jack will stick with you. Hoult is a rising young star with a good career ahead of him, but Tomlinson needs to separate herself from the growing crowd of 20-year-old hottie actresses. That won't be easy, especially when we're left knowing almost as little about her after Jack than before the lights dimmed. McGregor is his usual post-Obi Wan badass, and Tucci is serviceable but quickly fades from memory. Singer's action feels like a diet version of LOTR, but his lack of command of basic human emotions turns the movie into an over-stuffed re-imagined fairy tale that's full of action but little else.

Jack the Giant Slayer is decent, meaningless fun, but the Gollum-wanna-be and the flat replaceable performances by Tomlinson and Tucci tend to weigh things down. Jack is the perfect example of a well-intentioned film that looks good on paper but misses in its execution. Eight- to ten-year olds will enjoy it, while teens might disappear to see the better D&H: Witch Hunters. Jack isn't terrible, but it gets pretty full of malaise going down the stretch. See it in the theater before word gets out, for it could see an early exit. Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 114 minutes.

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