Dover Post film reviewer April Anderson reviews "Inkheart," starring Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany and Andy Serkis.
“No harm ever came from reading a book,” Evelyn told Rick just before the mummy awoke and brought back the 10 plagues in “The Mummy.” By now we all know how that turned out. The books of “Inkheart” are equally troublesome, if in a slightly more subtle way.
Once again starring Brendan Fraser, “Inkheart” is a charming adventure that suggests that while books have the power to take readers to other worlds, its best so long as those worlds stay between the covers.
Mortimer Folchart (Fraser) is a bookbinder who travels with his daughter, caring for old books while secretly searching for a certain, rare volume named “Inkheart.” He’s also a silvertongue, a person who can literally bring books to life by reading them out loud.
When he reads the bit about the cyclone from “The Wizard of Oz,” a real tornado hits the building. More importantly, if he reads about a character the character will come out of the book and appear before him.
So when a man from Mo’s past suddenly appears on the day he finally locates a copy of “Inkheart,” Mo’s first impulse is to grab his daughter and run. Turns out the man, Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), is one of several characters Mo read out of the book years ago and they have been up to no good ever since. The book’s minor villain, a thief and thug named Capricorn (Andy Serkis) even has his own castle and army of henchmen.
Before it’s all over Mo, his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett), aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren) and even the author of “Inkheart” (Jim Broadbent) all will be involved in trying to get Capricorn and the rest back in the book where they belong.
“Inkheart” is based on a book by Cornelia Funke who apparently based the character of Mo on Fraser, so the casting is appropriate. Fraser has had problems relating to children before, but does better here, though his best moments are with Bettany or when he’s reading. He reads with emotion and inflection that does bring life to the material, making the clever silvertongue idea seem plausible.
And it is a neat idea. Who wouldn’t want to conjure Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood into their living room for a bit? Capricorn’s stable is full of unicorns, flying monkeys and a certain ticking crocodile. Unfortunately for Mo, he only seems to get villains or vaguely neutral characters, never the heroes.
Dustfinger, for instance, is a carnival fire juggler whose one defining trait is his selfishness. Even when he agrees to help Mo there’s always the chance that he’ll run the moment things get tough. Regardless, Bettany makes him interesting and sympathetic. It’s hard not to like the guy.
Serkis is delightfully nasty as Capricorn, a bad man with a silly name. While Dustfinger only wants to get back to the book and his family, Capricorn has no intention of leaving a world that has phones, guns and duct tape. All he wants is for the rest of his band, and a nasty creature known as the shadow, to join him. After bringing Gollum and King Kong to life it’s nice to see Serkis using his own face.
The weakest character here is Bennet’s Meggie. She spends most of the film following her father around and pestering him with questions. She’s bright and intelligent and occasionally makes a comment about being a writer. But the film’s climax hinges on her and there’s nothing in the preceding 90 minutes to indicate she’s capable of what happens.
It’s tricky because the ending is a smart twist on the silvertongue idea but it just falls a bit flat and seems a bit easy. Regardless, “Inkheart” is a charming bit of fantasy and adventure that breathes new life into old books. Rated PG. √√