Sony Pictures 95 minutes PG-13
There are multiple worlds in Stephen King’s series of 8 novels. And the fate of each of these worlds is linked to the others. But all we can say about The Dark Tower is this is a bad movie in any world. This is the first of what producers hope will be a franchise, but if the quality of this film is any indication, it doesn’t deserve sequels.
The Dark Tower stands between these worlds as the bulwark against Evil’s dominion. What keeps The Man in Black, a devil-like character who goes by the name Walter, (Matthew McConaughey) from destroying the world is The Gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). Roland packs Colt 45’s and a stone face. The guns, it turns out, were forged from King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur. It’s supposed to be magical, but this film is not.
McConaughey’s deathly make-up fits his performance perfectly. As the essence of evil, he simply goes through the motions. He talks softly using his power of life and death, waving a hand while uttering “Stop breathing”, “Hate” or “Kill each other.” None of it packs a punch. For an actor who’s come so far in True Detective and The Dallas Buyers Club, his performance was a huge disappointment.
The plot is seen through the eyes of a kid. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a sorrowful tween. His father died fighting a fire and his mother has taken up with an abusive boyfriend. So when Jake begins drawing what appears in his nightmares, the young boy is labeled crazy. Of course, Jake has psychic powers, “The Shine”, which allow him to read minds and see the future battle approaching. The Man in Black also wants to make use of Jake’s special talents as well. He wants to enslave Jake to use his powers in taking down The Dark Tower.
If this sounds like Danish Director Nikolaj Arcel and co-writers Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, and Anders Thomas Jensen are stuffing 10 pounds of, shall we say stuff, into a 5 pound bag, you would be correct. A line of dialogue passes for character exposition. Then a raised eyebrow from Roland or a darting wide-eyed scared look from Jake is all the emotion we get to see from these characters. After reported stories of squabbles, fits and starts, and multiple directors before getting the actors in front of the camera, the deadline seemed more important than crafting a watchable film.
The most glaring example of how we felt short-changed is in the special effects. Rejected ideas for monsters from Alien come out of a true cartoon- looking red, spinning cloud. The portals that transport the characters between worlds also have an amateurish aura. And the slow motion bullets ricocheting and making sparks is straight out of any 60’s Western. If a Summer action movie dares to skimp on these effects when Spider Man and War for the Planet of the Apes is playing down the hall, be prepared for the uncomplimentary comparison.
There were a couple moments that lightened the mood. Look for Roland’s take on New York City hot dogs and the answer to his question, “Do they have guns in New York?” We laughed.
The Dark Tower is a confused story looking for a theme. It falls short as Fantasy, Action, or as a YA coming of age story just to name a few. Ostensibly this is a Western with Idris Elba’s long leather coat and six shooters, but nothing clicks. One genre that fits this unholy mess is horror-ible.