The House with a Clock in Its Walls has two things going for it - Jack Black, who stars in the film, and... Jack Black, who also stars in the film. Normally, any film with both of those qualities would instantly be a favorite of mine. You could count on a totally quirky, crass, and hilarious romp of a movie, with a not-so-insignificant chance of a guitar solo or heavy metal reference thrown in.
However, it seems that just slapping a well known actor onto a film does not a good movie make. Black can't seem to live up to his usual level of zaniness, primarily due to the very poor writing. The dialogue is incredibly inconsistent, and varies wildly in style. You could convince me, without much effort, that it was a collaboration between an HBO drama writer, and a five year old who hasn't gotten past poop jokes yet. One moment you have cutting dialogue about family and loss, really forcing the characters to deal with their flaws, and the next you have a magical garden statue firing wads of poo at an unsuspecting Lewis. Even with good casting you can't work around that, and frequently the adult characters in the film sound like caricatures of people, delivering bizarrely wooden lines that feel very out of place.
Not only is the writing all over the place, but so is the subject matter. You have magic and wizardry on the one hand, schoolyard drama on the other, and then a bizarre dive into necromancy, Satyrs, and all manner of occult influences. The film can't make up its mind on what kind of story it wants to tell, or who the story is for.
The oscillation between these different tones creates a truly jarring experience watching the film. Parts of it are done well - the more serious dramatic moments actually hit home quite well - but they are so fleeting that they lose their impact. This makes the immature and childish jokes and one liners even more stale and out of place than they already are.
The actual story of the film is easily its biggest strength. A tale of mystery and magic, with some creative ideas and interesting characters. It follows the story of Lewis, who moves in with an Uncle he soon learns is magical. Lewis gets swept into a world of warlocks and witches, a world that holds both wonderous sights and dark secrets alike. Certainly a promising start. There are even some surprising twists here and there. The potential is absolutely there for a fun and creative adventure that the whole family could enjoy, but that potential is squandered by poor execution, inconsistent writing, and an inability for the film to just make up its mind. The House with a Clock in Its Walls may be confused, but I'm not. I wouldn't recommend seeing this one.
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