Once upon a time Brendan Fraser was a real actor. Years before he discovered the financial benefits of acting in front of a green screen—being chased by mummies or journeying to the center of the earth, in 3D no less, has been very kind to his bank account—he made smaller character driven films. That was then, this is now. Inkheart, the new special effects opus is the latest in a string of movies that sees him as the square jawed hero battling creatures from another realm. Not since Orson Welles voiced commercials for a frozen pea company has one actor squandered his talent so flagrantly.
Based on the 2003 German novel of the same name by Cornelia Funke Inkheart is the story of Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Fraser) and his 12-year-old daughter, Meggie (Eliza Bennett). Both are bibliophiles but he is a book nut with a special gift… or curse depending on how you look at it. He is a “silver tongue,” someone who can bring books to life simply by reading them aloud. Of course over the years this has caused problems. When Meggie was just three years old Mo read aloud from a novel called Inkheart, a story filled with evil kings and a mysterious creature called The Shadow, made from the ashes of all his victims. As the words tripped off his tongue he mistakenly brought some of the characters from the book to the real world. Worse, his wife Resa (Sienna Guillory) vanished into the book’s mystical world. For nine years Mo has tried to track down another copy of the rare book with the hope of bring her back. When he finally finds a copy he must first deal with the book’s evil king who has decided he likes the real world and doesn’t want to be sent back to the pages of the novel.
Inkheart should have been romp through a whimsical world fun enough to give Harry Potter a run for his money. The idea is sound—fantastical creatures doing battle with Fraser and the other humans could be fun. Remember the first Mummy movie?—but director Iain Softley drops the ball. The pace is turgid, the action sequences have no bounce and even good actors like Paul Bettany as the enigmatic Dustfinger and Helen Mirren as feisty Great Aunt Elinor can’t elevate the proceedings to even a notch above dull.
The characters just aren’t very compelling. Fraser walks through the movie looking like he’s wondering when he’ll get paid; Paul Bettany’s Dustfinger, a character from the book who desperately wants to get sent back to his old life in the novel, is far too sullen and Andy Serkis’s supposedly evil Capricorn is a villain who seems grumpy rather than truly evil. And honestly, the sight of Dame Helen Mirren riding a unicorn, whooping like a blood crazed warrior from hell, is as ready a Razzie Awards moment as I have seen for some time.
Inkheart encapsulates everything that’s wrong with Brendan Fraser’s career. It’s another forgettable performance from him in a forgettable movie that allows the premise and the CGI to overshadow everything else. Let’s remember Fraser for the good ones—The Quiet American, Gods and Monsters and Crash—and hope that he gets over his green screen addiction sooner rather than later.