Stormbreaker (2006) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Bill Nighy, Alicia Silverstone, Sophie Okonedo, Mickey Rourke, Missi Pyle, Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis, Sarah Bolger, Ashley Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Stephen Fry, Andy Serkis
Director: Geoffrey Sax
Screenplay: Anthony Horowitz (based on his book)
Review published August 1, 2006
The way I see it, there are four basic categories when it comes to movies and how I review them:
1) Good movies that are also entertaining (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark)
2) Good movies that are not (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, The Hours)
3) Bad movies that still manage to be entertaining (The Calamari Wrestler, Fantastic Four)
4) Bad movies that are not (The Shaggy Dog, Date Movie)
While category #1 is the best kind of movie, and categories #2 and #3 end up making sitting through occasional lulls worthwhile, category #4 is the absolute worst to have to endure as a movie reviewer. These are the movies where I end up staring at the screen for what seems like an eternity, completely disengaged with whatever events are happening onscreen, caring absolutely nothing about the resolution of the film, and biding my time lost in thought just hoping to finally get to the best part of the overall movie: the end credits.
Stormbreaker is the fourth kind of movie.
The film is an adaptation by Anthony Horowitz (The Gathering, Just Ask for Diamond) from the first book in his series of Alex Rider novels. The series has often been dubbed as "James Bond for teenagers", which the film certainly plays out as in almost every respect. In the film, teenager Alex Rider (Pettyfer, Tom Brown's Schooldays) is recruited into top secret government spy organization, MI6, after he learns that his dear old uncle's car accident was actually a murder. His uncle (McGregor, Stay) was also a spy, and was killed in the line of duty while investigating the diabolical plans of a multibillion dollar corporate computer genius, Darrius Sayle (Rourke, Sin City). Alex picks up where his uncle left off, posing as a young computer prodigy to make his way into Sayle's company, where he uncovers a scheme whereby computers are freely donated to schools across the country, but which contain a deadly virus that will unleash itself at the opportune time to bring about thousands, if not millions of deaths.
The first major knock on Stormbreaker comes from the fact that this sort of film has done before far too many times to be considered remotely fresh or interesting. I'm not even referring to the James Bond series, either. You can barely still count on your hands the amount of Bond-like teenage spy films that have been made, from the three Spy Kids films, to the two Agent Cody Banks entries, and lets not forget The Double O Kid, If Looks Could Kill and Gotcha! Sure, Horowitz's book came out years before the first Agent Cody Banks, but Stormbreaker has arrived far too late to the party to find someone interested in a dance. Besides the fact, nearly all of these movies are mediocre at best -- haven't we all suffered enough?
Even if this were the first teenage spy film ever made, this is still a pretty bad movie on its own. While there are plenty of special effects, action sequences, gadgets and gizmos, and hard-driving pop tunes, the entertainment value is damn near nonexistent. What the film lacks are any surprises in the mix, with every plot point and character written in a strictly-by-the-book fashion, with no attempt to give us something we haven't seen done before dozens of times. I take that back -- there is one major surprise to Stormbreaker that astonishes me to no end: that they were able to secure the talents of McGregor, Okonedo (Aeon Flux, Hotel Rwanda), Nighy (POTC 2, The Constant Gardener), and the rest of this impressive cast to sign on for a vapid movie that offers such paltry wares.
Stormbreaker is a colossal bore that throws special effects and music video style montages at us whenever it there's nothing interesting for these wafer-thin characters to say or do, which means, all of the time. It's obviously just another major studio attempt to capitalize on populist literary franchise for juveniles to make into a string of commercial films, but it appears the makers of this first entry are getting way ahead of themselves. Usually you wait until the third or fourth movie in the series before you start dishing out wholly clichéd formula antics and carbon copy plotting.
Stormbreaker is a flavorless, second-rate attempt at marketing a consumer product, crafted with potential licensing rights to video games (the Stormbreaker game already exists on the Nintendo DS, which is, not coincidentally, given a major product placement in the film), and other merchandise to sell to the children they hope will become big fans of the series. If only there were someone involved in the conception phase of this film that didn't have dollar signs in his eyes; he would have easily seen just how poor this movie was becoming, little more than eye-candy titillation for the youngest in the audience to sit captive, watching the cavalcade of well-placed advertisements, some blatant and some subliminal, dance before their very eyes. Why does such shameless consumerism have to be so difficult to consume?
©2006 Vince Leo