Mo "Silvertongue" Folchart (Brendan Fraser), Meggie Folchart (Eliza Bennett), Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), and Elinor Loredan (Helen Mirren) in the movie version of the novel <em>Inkheart</em>.

Even if you never read the book, you’ll have to admit this is a bad adaptation. Mostly because Iain Softley’s screen version of Cornelia Funke’s fantasy novel Inkheart is a big budget feature film with dead space in its center. Even considering the liberal sprinkling of unicorns, flying monkeys, heartwarming themes, and a monster straight from Fantasia, this is mainly made of tedious stuff.

You might be tempted to blame it on Brendan Fraser, who plays Mo Folchart, a hunky rare book dealer who has a bad allegory name and the dubious gift of a “silvertongue,” the ability to make book characters come to life by reading aloud. (In the realm of dubious premises, this is only slightly more believable than My Mother the Car.) Fraser nowadays has the sexy hero appeal of a puppy dog, with big liquid eyes and scampish faithfulness. As an onscreen figure, he’s no match for the passionate evil supplied by his opponent, Capricorn, wittily portrayed by Andy Serkis. It’s not that you want to see bad triumph, but Fraser’s principled passivity-and his refusal to use his magic gifts-begins to drag down the plot when compared with the raw beauty of Serkis and his slobbering mutant overachievers. Yet this is mostly the script’s fault, which doesn’t so much develop suspense as haltingly postpone the film’s final showdown. Too soon it begins to feel more like a comedy of errors than a mystical quest.

What’s good about the movie is its shameless promotion of the joy of text. This is yet another fantasy novel about being trapped in a book’s spell: think Neverending Story, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and Bedtime Stories. Even though Inkheart doesn’t raise much of a menace, it clearly loves books. The film’s most touching scene is when Aunt Elinor, played by Helen Mirren, tries to protect her beloved storybook library. And that’s the kind of passion that ought to appeal to moviemakers everywhere-they’re in the business of bringing book characters to life, after all. It’s just too bad in this script they didn’t make the narrative breathe for us too.


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