It can’t have helped that Stephen King fans and fantasy-horror fangirls and boys spent years breathlessly anticipating a film version of his “Dark Tower” series of novels.
Sure, he’s a proven brand and these books — about alternate worlds where “The Gunslinger” does battle with the forces of darkness, keeping demons at bay and preserving the titular “tower” from toppling, loosing them on other dimensions, including “Keystone Earth” — were particularly popular.
But going through potential directors J.J. Abrams and then Ron Howard, and a cast-list that might have included Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Aaron Paul, Oscar winners Christian Bale and Javier Bardem was sure to disappoint.
Truth be told, you do wonder how a type-to-hype machine like StephenKingWorks manages to maintain anticipation for a filmed version of this or that. There’s a remake of “It” is due in theaters in weeks, “Cujo” and “Children of the Corn” rebooted, new TV versions of “The Mist,” and “Mr. Mercedes” replacing the gone-and-not-soon-enough “Haven” and “Under the Dome” — all saddled with King’s dreadful big screen track record .
Is there anything that this guy has churned out that HASN’T been a movie or TV series? “The Shining,” “1408,” “Carrie,” “Misery,” “Dolores Claiborne,” “Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand By Me” stand out among the scores upon scores of King adaptations. The rest were never more than boilerplate, a good gimmick lost in pages and pages of formula, making for mediocre movies, at best.
Are people’s memories really that short? Ah, but critics remember. And if you’ve been in the business long enough to resent the weeks of your life wasted while suffering through “Christine” or “Pet Sematary,” “The Running Man” “The Lawnmower Man,” and “Children of the Corn,” you know better than to get your hopes up.
Which is a VERY long way to get around to what a bust “The Dark Tower” turns out to be. A thriller with tepid thrills, a horror movie with bland frights, a generic fantasy quest story in which we mope along with joyless, heartless characters in an out-of-date celebration of Old West gunplay, this never should have left pre-production.
Tom Taylor is Jake, the New York teen whose vivid nightmares convince him there’s an alternate, ruined world where a Gunslinger pursues the murderous sorcerer, The Man in Black. Everybody else thinks the kid is crazy.
But he’s sketched these dreams, and they’re his guide to a portal in that world. And that’s where he stumbles into a desert and where he meets The Gunslinger of his dreams.
“This is cool. It’s all REAL.”
Idris Elba is Roland, the Gunslinger, who lives by the Gunslinger’s Creed.
“I do not aim with my hand; He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.
“I do not shoot with my hand; He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind.”
And so on.
Matthew McConaughey, his face polished to some sort of ageless sheen, is the Man in Black, who steals the dreams of “special” children like Jake, who long ago killed The Gunslinger’s dad (Dennis Haysbert) and whose minions (Jackie Earle Haley heads the New York Minion Local) pursue both.
Which is odd, because The Gunslinger is looking for the Man in Black, too. Only they never seem to connect.
Third, fourth or fifth choice director Nikolaj Arcel (he scripted the Swedish “Girl in the Dragon Tattoo”) tries to make something of the script-by-committee, but ho-hum effects and all the many compromises made getting a potential franchise off the ground weigh on the film.
It’s 96 minutes long, feels truncated and just drags.
King fans may find some thrills in seeing things they only imagined on the page realized on the big screen, or in the many Easter Eggs (“Christine” turns up, as do other tidbits of Kinglore).
Whatever literary merits there were to the book, this comes off as claptrap — rushed, cut, pasted together nonsense with a too-passive/too-dull child “hero,” a leading man content to let cool (not really) gunplay do the heavy lifting and a villain here to collect a check and deliver action-movie-villain dialogue so generic it gives genre a bad name.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.
Cast: Idris Elba, Tom Taylor, Matthew McConaughey, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert
Credits:Directed by Nikolaj Arcel , script by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel, based on the Stephen King novels. A Sony Columbia release.
Running time: 1:36