What’s that old saying about too much of a (mediocre) thing?
That’s the second half of Stephen King’s “It” saga, an everything horrific but the kitchen sink thriller destined to be a blockbuster, treated — by virtue of its excessive length — as “an event,” a signature moment on big screen horror.
Derivative, a veritable catalog of the author’s “greatest horror hits,” “It Chapter Two” is overloaded with characters, filled with flashbacks, with endless dollops of exposition, right up to the absurdly drawn-out, fan-servicing finale.
The dialogue is laced with profanity that has a gratuitous “Just because we can” R-rated air. We get a couple of genuinely chilling moments and one or two touching ones (There are MANY supposedly emotional scenes that fell flat, for me.), a couple of actual movie stars delivering fair value in the cast — and Bill Hader. But the best scenes and character are handed to a pretty good supporting player.
“It Chapter Two” plays like any of the lesser Harry Potter pictures, all over the place, overlong, where there’s actual market-researched fear in “leaving anything out,” for the fans.
So when a character eventually declares, “Nothing lasts forever,” feel free to keep “Except this f—–g movie!” under your breath.
Twenty-seven years have passed since “The Losers” of Derry, Maine, killed Pennywise the Supernatural Clown (Bill Skarsgård) and took a pact to return “if ‘It’ ever comes back.”
Considering how all of them eagerly fled the town where they were abused, beaten and bullied, where one lost his brother, and most have led full lives since “forgetting” most of what happened that summer of ’89, this “pact” thing doesn’t strike one as anything any of them would feel obligated to keep. Wouldn’t stand up in court, in any event.
But when Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the one who stayed behind, kept the flame and kept a vigilant eye out calls each in turn with a “You need to come home,” they do.
Almost all of them, anyway.
Bill (James McAvoy) is the writer of the lot, the “Stand by Me” success, a successful horror author and screenwriter married to an actress (Jess Weixler), trying to write a new ending for director Peter Bogdanovich, in mid-production of their latest film.
A running gag? “Your endings suck.” Everybody says so, including his wife and the shopkeeper who reads his books back in Derry (a Stephen King cameo). And by the time we get to the second anti-climax at the conclusion of “It,” we might agree.
Beverly (Jessica Chastain) runs a fashion line, but is in a miserable, abusive marriage.
Ben (Jay Ryan) is no longer fat, no longer a poet, but a successful builder of architectural marvels.
Eddie (James Ransone) is a “risk assessment” expert for Big Insurance, still accident and injury prone, still a hypochondriac, still afraid of his own shadow.
Richie (Hader) is a neurotic stand-up comic made even more nervous by Mike’s call.
Stanley (Andy Bean)? He’s the one who’d rather die that “go back there.”
What Mike has seen as a “sign” is the film’s opening murder, a horrific homophobic hate crime finished off by Pennywise. The damned clown is back to his snatching and dismembering ways. Let’s skip by the real crime by four thugs (Cops are basically a non-presence in the Big Little Town of Derry) and focus on the supernatural one!
Andy Muschietti’s film folds flashback upon flashback into the proceedings as these characters, who vow to “stay together” because that’s how they foiled the clown the first time, are separated and each faces her or his fears in search of “artifacts” (talismans) from their youth that will help them repeat their defeat of Pennywise.
One thing those flashbacks accomplish is showcase Jaeden Martell’s growth spurt between the first film and this one. He plays the young Bill, and he’s already taller than McAvoy, and looks little like his original self in many scenes.
It’s a film of close-ups — used to make a laugh pay off (they rarely do), a fright bigger or that lump catch in your throat longer when the once-bantering teens rebuild their childhood pecking order and go all Stephen King gooey in their devotion to one another.
Ransome’s Eddie is the best match between the young Eddie and his adult guise, and he gives us lots of touches that show the boy who turned into the same sort of man he was as a child.
Characters not only have solo confrontations with Pennywise, they pair up a couple of times, facing him in teams of two. This helps survivability, even if it does nothing for the narrative.
King’s favorite themes of remorse, guilt and savage bullying are much in evidence, as is his inabilty to conjure up a love story — tomboyish Bev flirted her way through all the possible beaus, way back when, and hasn’t quite shaken that “the band’s sex symbol” thing as an adult.
The flashbacks rob the picture of its flow, even if they give characters noble moments — publicly rebuking the life-expectations of one’s family and faith at a Bar Mitzvah, for instance — or ones that further illuminate how this person turned out that way.
The picture feels cluttered, with the big set pieces outlined and diagrammed and arriving at precise moments in the 160 minutes of the movie.
“It Chapter Two” isn’t awful, especially by King in the late ’80s standards. It’ll make a mint, and congrats to one and all when the checks clear.
But if The Great Stephen King revival won’t end here, we can sure see the beginning of the end of it. Whatever the virtues of his books, they’re repetitious, derivate and bloated, and often turn out that way on the big screen, too.
So coming up with a good “ending” is only the tip of the narrative iceberg, as far as the reasons why are concerned.
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material.
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransome, Andy Bean and Bill Skarsgård
Credits: Directed by Andy Muschietti script by Gary Dauberman, based on the Stephen King novel. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:49