Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA,. , . Screenplay by , based on the novel by . Cinematography by . Produced by , Eric Kripke, . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .
A boy who carries dictionaries in his suitcase because of his keen love of learning new words is orphaned by a car accident, sent to another town to live with an eccentric uncle () and his kooky best friend ( ). The strange house they live in has qualities that seem impossible until he realizes that they are actually magical, and his new guardians are actually a warlock and a witch. At first the boy (played by is terrified but, once acclimated, decides he wants to learn how to weave spells the way Black and Blanchett do, and is told he may do so under one condition: all the rooms and what they contain are available to him except one book that is locked in one cupboard…and we know it’s only a matter of time before that rule is broken. What the adults are hiding from the young man is the fact that they have taken the house over from its previous spell-weaving owner in the hope of locating the clock that ticks loudly behind its walls, late in the night, expecting to discover what power it possesses. Is it treasure? Or danger? Adapted from the popular children’s book by John Bellairs, this is an unimaginative adventure whose many wan elements undo it completely. Vaccaro is awkwardly overdoing his Child Star moments and gives an unsympathetic and unconvincing performance, Blanchett is obviously bored and her googly eyes wipe the floor with Black’s paltry effort (he’s too laid back and fun to be as unpredictably odd as the role demands), and, worst of all, the storytelling is too thin and spread out for all the money and computer-generated magic being expended. It seems as if the film is meant for kids given its simple narrative, but Eli Roth, working in children’s cinema for the first time, includes some scary elements (like a creepy demon). Its only high points are the healthy fun banter between the two adult leads and a sincerely charming ending, otherwise it plays like a Harry Potter ripoff and is only for the very easily amused.