Peter Jackson ruins a beloved novel with crappy CGI and a confusing screenplay.
Oh dear goodness, what happened here?
New Zealand’s rowdy, splatter-movie hero turned tedious Oscar-feted golden boy Peter Jackson took on Alice Sebold’s beloved novel, and accidentally came up with the kind of shriekingly awful movie that only somebody passionately convinced of his own genius could make. The Lovely Bones isn’t just a lousy picture, it’s so epically bad that it feels legendary. Already a punchline among industry folks, the film’s planned December expansion was scuttled after early screenings ended in peals of derisive laughter.
(Yes, I was there, and indeed found myself cackling at the top of my lungs. So if you’d like to blame me for this mawkish, fanciful tale of a child’s rape and murder not ending up in your Christmas stocking like a lump of coal, I’ll gladly take responsibility. You’re welcome.)
Sebold’s novel is the tragic tale of young Susie Salmon, a precocious youngster who falls victim to a neighborhood pedophile (Stanley Tucci, oozing evil from his fake moustache) and never escapes the dastardly pervert’s bizarre underground playroom. How such a fidgety weirdo could construct such an elaborate death trap beneath a mysteriously abandoned cornfield without attracting attention is never explained, nor do we have any idea why exactly any child in his or her right mind would ever go anywhere with this creep.
Alas, Saoirse Ronan’s monotonal Susie soon finds herself stuck in “the in-between” which is a lot like heaven, except with crappier CGI. Surrounded by giant, garish computer-generated ships-in-bottles and fantasy visions of a date with her goofy boyfriend, young Miss Salmon’s sorry afterlife outdoes the notorious Robin Williams weep-a-thon What Dreams May Come for tacky special-effects netherworlds. She’s even got a plucky Chinese sidekick, conveniently also murdered by Tucci, on hand for words of wisdom.
The horrifically miscast Mark Wahlberg (stepping in for Ryan Gosling, who walked off the project after a sudden attack of common sense) plays Susie’s father, maniacally grieving, smashing props and attempting to solve his daughter’s murder on his own. The town’s head homicide detective ( The Sopranos ’ Michael Imperioli) is too distracted by the affair he’s having with Mrs. Salmon (Rachel Weisz) to do much investigative work, and sadly nobody ever thought to question Tucci’s mouth-breathing, dollhouse-building pervert for more than a couple of minutes.
Did I mention there’s also a teenage psychic who broods like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club ? No, I don’t know how she fits in here either.
Jackson’s film is such a fiasco, it never even figures out what story it’s trying to tell. His is the tragic saga of a director so fascinated by computer-generated bells and whistles that he’s forgotten all about the fundamentals of filmmaking. Every shot is a trick shot; Jackson’s camera swoops in circles and upside down, dwelling on blindingly enhanced colors and garish, phony vistas. The 1970s period trappings feel like loud wallpaper, but at least they allow Wahlberg to reclaim his Dirk Diggler haircut from Boogie Nights .
Just when you think things can’t get any more embarrassing, Susan Sarandon turns up as the dead girl’s drunken, slutty grandmother, glammed-out and chain-smoking, owning a spectacularly awful slapstick montage in which she attempts to perform household tasks, failing miserably. Yes, we must grieve for a child who was raped and murdered, but let us first giggle at trashed Sarandon trying to work a retro washing machine. Is there anyone in charge of tone here?
The Lovely Bones is silly. Let’s just admit that Peter Jackson—a filmmaker who was previously lauded for zombie flicks and adolescent pleasures—somehow dragged out the Lord of the Rings saga to 10 hours, and remade King Kong in such a fashion that it took twice as much time to watch as the original, yet wasn’t nearly as good. He’s an infant sitting at the grown-up table, and The Lovely Bones proves once and for all he has no business making movies for adults.
The film’s final collision of plot contrivances, in which Susie’s plucky little sister solves the mystery at the exact moment Mrs. Salmon moves back home is so unremittingly hilarious, all I could think of was the fantastic satirical sequence in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans , when every story strand is miraculously wrapped up while Nicolas Cage sits at his desk musing: “So I guess everything worked out okay, then?”
The Lovely Bones is many things, but it’s not “okay.” D+