Friday, August 4, 2017

'The Dark Tower' Lands With A Thud



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

I've read almost all of Stephen King's books, having started way younger than I probably should have (around age 10), yet The Dark Tower series never did it for me. I tried the first book, but its use of western and fantasy genres — the two genres I am probably the least interested in — meant it was a Stephen King world I wasn't willing to spend a lot of time in.

Still, I appreciated the series and its grandiosity, and how King used it as a means of tying all of his work together into one giant, interconnected universe, with the (literal) Dark Tower at its center. But after years of trying to bring it to the screen, with luminaries like J. J. Abrams and Ron Howard taking a stab at it (Howard remains as producer), The Dark Tower finally lands with a decidedly loud THUD in theaters this week.

Directed by Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel, whose latest work was the period drama A Royal Affair in 2012, the film is rushed, flat, devoid of any real excitement, filled with terrible dialog, and anchored by a truly awful performance at its center.

The man behind that performance is Matthew McConaughey, whose "Man in Black" (AKA Walter, a ridiculous name that at least does not go without comment) resembles the type of greasy character you might find in a tacky nightclub, using his limited skill in "magics" to try and impress some drunk chicks. Complete with slicked back hair and a black shirt buttoned low enough to show off a gold chain, McConaughey spends the majority of his performance strutting and preening, at least when he isn't wielding his weaponized jazz hands.

Walter lives in a post-apocalyptic, old west looking universe known as Mid-World, and his chief goal, as it is with so many villains, is to destroy the universe — or at least the Dark Tower, the powerful monolith at the center of all of it all that somehow protects everyone from impending monster attacks. Walter has figured out that the only weapon that can bring down the Dark Tower is the mind of a psychic kid (as long as you strap the kid into a chair that can somehow suck out all that brain power out and beam it across the universe in the form of a mighty stream of fire), and he's searching for the most powerful ones.

Enter Jake (Tom Taylor), a boy living in New York who is suffering from nightmares and visions that feature a tower, a mysterious Man in Black, a Gunslinger, and some creepy rat-faced people who pass as human by wearing fake skin suits.

His mother (Katheryn Winnick) assumes this is all a result of trauma related to the death of his firefighter father, while his stepfather (Nicholas Pauling) just hopes Jake is nuts enough to be sent to a loony bin so he can have his mom all to himself.

Using his own dream-inspired drawings, Jake tracks down a house in Brooklyn that contains a portal to Mid-World, where Jake learns all his visions are real and the Gunslinger is an actual man.

That man is named Roland, he's played by Idris Elba, and he's the film's only redeeming feature. Any fan of Elba knows he can pretty much do anything, and through the strength of sheer magnetism he is able to sell the character of the Gunslinger; a lesser talent having to deliver some of the Gunslinger's dialog would have the audience laughing instead of cheering. (::cough:: McConaughey ::cough::)

I've long realized that when it comes to Stephen King, there are some things that work on the page that just don't translate well to the big screen. He can often get away with hokey dialog in his books, but once it's actually spoken aloud, it can become unintentionally comedic. And that's something that hampers a lot of The Dark Tower.

Jake, with his psychic powers (or "shine," as it is not so subtly called) and the Gunslinger and his ancient marksman skills team up to bring down the Man in Black, which means a return to New York, and the secret evil minion club that hides a portal to Walter's weapons lab. ("Brooklyn's hottest club is Dixie Pig. This place has everything: rat-faced boys in human skin masks, inter-dimensional portals; JACKIE EARL HALEY.")

Jake and the Gunslinger's New York adventure is the film's only highlight, but it's woefully brief, coming at the end of the film's scant 95 minutes. Now, I love me a short running time, and I don't think I'd actually want to see another minute of this Dark Tower. But the fact that it feels short to someone like me is a clear indication that this material needed a much larger scope. And while the original plan was for the film to lead in to a TV series, I can't see audiences clamoring for more after walking out of this.

Unless it's just a weekly show featuring Idris Elba in a long leather trench coat, glowering and shooting things. I'd watch the hell out of that.

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