The House With a Clock in Its Walls

Eli Roth has spent the past 16 years directing an uneven mix of movies that pay tribute to the fine genre films that provided ’80s trash fiends an alternative to mainstream mediocrities like The Goonies, Back to the Future, and E.T. Ergo, decided wise Hollywood, Eli Roth is just the guy to direct a big-budget CGI fest that’s going to be mediocre enough to be a mix of The Addams Family and Harry Potter franchises.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. Sadly, we’re not getting the equivalent of Joe Dante going from The Howling to Gremlins. Instead, we’re skipping right to the shiny blandness of Dante’s Innerspace, Explorers, and Gremlins 2 – although, to his credit, Dante never got desperate enough to plunder Tim Burton’s quirky bag of tricks, as well.

Still, it’s not likely that any director could’ve saved this ponderous tale of another cute kid in mystical surroundings where he just happens to be a natural at becoming a wizard. In this case, it’s a young orphan moving into the wacky house of  his warlock uncle (Jack Black) who lives next door to his witchy pal (Cate Blanchett), and it’s hard to remember which of them rushes to deliver the inevitable line, “What’s wrong with weird?”

There’s also a passing plot about a doomsday clock ticking down in the walls that has to be stopped, and you can guess which plucky hero will save the day. That’s even if you didn’t grow up enamored of the kiddie books that inspired this hopeful new bid for a film franchise.

There is, however, something to be said for House making great use of the increasingly tired movie locales of Newnan. This time, the town’s filling in for New Zebedee, Michigan in 1955 – and the studio must’ve been thrilled at the homey but imposing architecture that was already there for location shoots. It’s definitely the most Newnan movie made yet.

The town’s beautiful old Alamo Theatre shows up at the very beginning, too. But there’s a fictional sci-fi film on the marquee, and the lame title is your first warning that no one really gave this movie much thought.

[PG]