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SOUNDBITE: Movie leaves much to be desired

Film: House with the Clock in Its Walls--2 out of 5 Stars

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  I come bearing bad news. So far this year, the film industry is doing me no favors in giving me good material to review. The House with the Clock in Its Walls had more bad than good.

  Don’t get me wrong, director Eli Roth’s adaptation of John Bellairs’s 1973 book served its basic purpose, to entertain, but it didn’t necessarily do it well.

  I’ll give you the short list because my compadre Jayton felt the same after seeing the film–deflated and let down. The biggest problem I had was how underdeveloped main character Lewis Barnavelt (Dylan in Daddy’s Home) was. The film opened with a letter from Lewis’s Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black, School of Rock) explaining that Lewis is newly orphaned and that Jonathan is so sorry and that Jonathan’s also messily eating a cookie (comic relief is a must, after all). I have nothing against orphans. Traditionally, this tragic snag in their backstory gives them a lot to overcome, thus a lot of room for personal growth. However, Roth treated this as Lewis’s only backstory, and he didn’t grow. Lewis was overall whiny and depressed, which is understandable, but there was nothing except whining and depression. Lewis didn’t move past these negative emotions, which sent the message that kids in similar situations aren’t able to overcome the loss of caretakers.

  One scene in particular that let me down occurred shortly after Lewis and Jonathan met. Lewis broke down about missing his parents and rather than taking the opportunity to develop the budding relationship between uncle and nephew, Black’s character was just awkward and unsure. I get that. Being thrown into guardianship can leave people awkward and unsure, but when your ward is crying, I would think the ideal treatment would be a hug and a gentle reminder that everything will eventually work out.

  There were other things I didn’t like, but most can be tied back to the lack of development in Lewis’s character.  I will say, The House with a Clock in Its Walls was well cast for the most part. The chemistry between Jonathan and Cate Blanchett’s (Thor: Ragnarok) character Florence Zimmerman was so authentic and entertaining that it was hard to believe that the banter they shared didn’t continue behind the scenes. I was worried that Black’s comedic background would overshadow and ruin the seriousness of the film, leaving Blanchett to reign things back in, but Black’s humor was a saving grace for the film.

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