If goal of the team behind the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It was to make a comedic vehicle for Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard, then job well done.
As Richie, the horny, potty-mouthed member of the teens who call themselves The Losers in 1989 Derry, Maine, the bespectacled youth is a laugh riot, quick with an inappropriate comment in an ill-fitting situation.
But the surrounding story of a sleepy town whose children are hunted by fear-hungry Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård)? It’s a near complete failure as a horror film.
Despite plenty of instances where characters go into rooms or look down holes they obviously should avoid as the presence of an unsettling ex-circus performer with multiple rows of sharks teeth and/or the plentiful creepy imagery he conjures in his potential prey’s minds inevitably lie in waiting, director Andy Muschietti exhibits practically no sense for timing.
Further undercutting this ineptitude for scares is the implementation of obvious CGI in moments where it should be seamless, not distracting — odd since Muschetti’s Mama has no such issues with its spectral baddie (though struggles elsewhere).
Trouble is evident early on when Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), the little brother of stuttering Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), chases his incredulously fake paper boat down the rainy day’s street current and builds with help from the unintentionally humorous entities that terrorize hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and rabbi’s son Stanley (Wyatt Oleff).
And when Pennywise manipulates his shape in original form, get ready for some big laughs. We’re talking approximations with Clifford the Big Red Dog — surely a comparison Muschetti and his trio of screenwriters, including True Detective creator Cary Fukunaga, didn’t intend.
It’s flesh-and-blood threats, however, are no better. Every adult, from the lecherous father (Stephen Bogaert) of budding woman Beverly (Sophia Lillis) to Eddie’s overprotective mom (Molly Atkinson) are laughable bad parent stereotypes, and the bullies led by mullet-rocking Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) are cliché in the tormenting of their weaker, younger schoolmates for the simple fact that they can get away with the abuse.
Other that the few — make that far too few — stirring moments when The Losers band together and stand up for themselves and the minor thrills from a pseudo SnorriCam effect when Pennywise charges at his targets, there’s barely anything to recommend about this second botched King attempt in six weeks.
Worse still is that this is merely Round One with this miserable filmmaking crew. Though It: Part Two will drop its hit-or-miss youth cast for their as-yet-cast adult versions 27 years later, there’s little to feel confident about in concluding this tale if the same folks are calling the shots behind the camera.
Grade: D-plus. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Warner Bros.)