The Dark Tower
As fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower books well know, the synthesis of vintage and futuristic heroes and villains locked in a battle for the fate of the universe holds rich appeal on numerous levels.
But while the new film adaptation by Danish director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) frequently captures the visual iconography of wild west lawmen and wizards existing in the same realm, from the start it’s as tonally inconsistent as that risky genre clash suggests.
Arcel and his team of three other screenwriters – an oddball mix composed of two Oscar winners (including A Beautiful Mind’s Akiva Goldsman) and a former J.J. Abrams homeboy – introduce this unusual world through New York City teen Jake (British newcomer Tom Taylor).
Dreaming of evil sorcerer Walter (Matthew McConaughey) a.k.a. The Man in Black strapping a child to a machine that fires an energy beam from her mind to attack the titular structure, Jake awakens to an earthquake rocking his neighborhood, a phenomenon that’s lately become somewhat regular there and around the globe.
It’s not a bad setup and neither are quick character-building scenes of Jake being bullied (and standing up for himself) at school, but as soon as these handful of factoids are known about our hero, the film jumps to him receiving a troubling omen from a homeless guy who may very well be a hallucination.
The speed with which this reality-questioning shift arrives is disorienting to say the least and Jake’s subsequent visions of the last living gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba) being tormented by Walter — a surprisingly dull figure, rendered almost comedic by McConaughey’s bizarrely affected voice — don’t make it any easier to get one’s bearings.
Much of The Dark Tower plays out in this fashion, moving along at a clip that would seemingly raise its entertainment prowess while self-sabotaging itself by failing to develop the story and world to a satisfying degree.
The breakneck pace does have the advantage of uniting Jake and Roland with minimal waiting, though their interactions and Roland’s primer on the tower protecting good from overwhelming evil are dry at best. However, their chemistry hits a brief groove when the two leave the gunslinger’s world for New York City, during which the visitor’s amusing fish-out-of-water encounters elicit their share of genuine laughs.
These charms are indeed short-lived as The Dark Tower struggles to unite its disparate parts, namely its would-be exciting elements. Blame falls on Arcel, who may have multiple action and thriller titles to his name, but cranks out noisy, nearly incomprehensible shootouts and chase sequences that are further degraded by surprisingly cheap special effects.
Grade: D-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Columbia Pictures)