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Inkheart, Brendan Fraser

Warner Bros. Pictures

Review in a Hurry: Based on the best-selling novel, this family adventure casts Brendan Fraser as a hero dad (again!) who can bring mythological characters to life. While the story proves the pen is mightier than the sword, this flaccid adaptation proves the book is mightier than the film.

The Bigger Picture: Inkheart assembles talented actors and technicians, and its "Silvertongue" protagonist summons fantastical creatures and characters, but this modern-day fairy tale fails to conjure the most crucial element: magic.

Mo Folchart (Fraser) has a unique gift for making literary characters appear in the flesh when he reads aloud from a book. But there's a danger—when a character appears, someone from our world gets sucked into the pages.

As his 12-year-old daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) discovers, that's exactly what happened to dear ol' Mom many years ago. And that's why Mo has tirelessly searched for a copy of the book Inkheart, which nabbed his wife and unleashed villainous Capricorn (bald Andy Serkis) and his thugs.

It's up to Meggie and Mo—with the help of fictional friends—to thwart Capricorn's evil plans and send everyone back to the books where they belong.

The pic gets off to a charming, mysterious start and benefits from the appearance of battle-ax Aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren in a turban). But the middle gets muddled and whimsy goes out the window as the action shifts to—and bogs down in—Capricorn's Italian castle. Too many characters distract, as do the many unanswered questions the plot raises, especially when it plays loosely with its own rules.

Mirren and Jim Broadbent (as the Inkheart author) lend some levity, but the film never takes full advantage of their considerable talents. Cameos by Toto and flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, the ticking-clock croc from Peter Pan, and Rapunzel are cheeky fun. Though you'll find yourself longing for those more entertaining stories instead.

The 180—a Second Opinion: A glowering, shirtless Paul Bettany shows off fancy fire-breathing. And yes, that is real-life wife Jennifer Connelly in the blink-and-miss-it role as his beloved.