‘Harry Potter’ and the deathly bore

Posted on 18 Nov 2010 at 5:06pm

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now playing in wide release.
One star

I have struggled for the better part of a decade to make sense of the appeal of the Harry Potter books and movies. Now, as the film series nears its conclusion with the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2 comes out in July), I’m more befuddled than ever. As it somersaults uncontrollably toward a necessary resolution, the series must contend with its greatest burden: 4,000 pages of characters and intricately plotted (but nonsensical) events — collectively, it all requires a scorecard to keep track.

Sadly, Part 1 comes with no such primer, and the director, David Yates (this is his third Potter film), has made no effort to remind us of who these people are. He should, as couching motives in shadow seems like the raison d’etre of the series. The first half-hour, in fact, feels more like the star credits that used to open The Love Boat: from forgotten Weasleys to Dobby the House Elf (who, to my knowledge, hasn’t been seen since the second film), the parade of former denizens of the Potterverse is mind-numbing.

But not nearly as numbing as the plot itself. Know what a horcrux is, or how it’s make — or, for that matter, how to find and destroy it? You’d better before entering this film. (I’ve seen the other movies and read the mythology and still feel flummoxed.) Like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the Harry Potter films have given over to infernal navelgazing. They are not interested in winning new converts, but catering to the obsessions of their core. It’s the GOP strategy writ in celluloid.

Of course, there are those who have a rabid enthusiasm for the series and who will flock to it, as well as some just caught up in the pop culture excitement of a Thanksgiving blockbuster. But I can’t worry about those. I’m just trying to make heads or tails of the story and the storytelling, and here, it’s nonexistent. (I’d tell you the plot, but have no idea what it was.)

There are long, boring parts in the middle where nothing much happens that fill in the short, boring parts that begin and end it, though seeing a cross-dressing Daniel Radcliffe as Harry in the opening scene is pretty funny. What’s not funny is Harry’s sincere

selflessness: He’s always saying, “I don’t want anyone to suffer just because of me.” You, you mean the only person who can kill the Dark Lord Voldemorte? You, who all of creation has put its faith in to rescue them from eternal darkness? You really think they want you to be in harm’s way? Harry seems not so much noble as indulgent. Accept your lot, and live with it.

Part 1 is among the shortest of the Potter films, but feels longer, even though the ball doesn’t move very far down the field. Or the snitch across the Quiddich court. Or something. Frankly, I’ve given up caring. Apparently, the filmmakers have, too.

…………………………

The Next Three Days

Now playing in wide release.
One and a half stars

I’m old enough to remember when Russell Crowe was actually a movie star. Remember his muscled torso in a short Roman chiton in Gladiator? Or sailing the seas with bravado in Master and Commander? The volatile cop in L.A. Confidential? Heck, even his mentalyl ill professor in A Beautiful Mind has the glam of Old Hollywood “Issue Picture” all over it. So when did he become the guy whose movie all sound like dull preposition phrases? State of Play. Body of Lies. Proof of Life.

The Next Three Days is more dangling clause than preposition phrase, though that doesn’t make it any better. It’s still a dark muddle about an ordinary guy who tries extraordinary things faced with unusual circumstances. When you think about it, that’s the plot of his last film, Robin Hood, too. … another day but moodless and sincere drama.

Here, Crowe is a milquetoast husband whose wife (Elizabeth Banks) has been falsely convicted of murder. He obsesses about getting  her out, but when his last appeal (and last dollar) is lost, he decides to break her out.

Writer-director Paul Haggis veers too often into action-movie parody without the sense of fun that silly actioners can possess. Want to be earnest and deep? Then do that and leave the cheesy coincidences in the first draft. The Next Three Days isn’t a horrible film, it’s just one with so little personality, it’s hard to like.

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