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The House With A Clock In Its Walls takes a leaf from master storyteller Roald Dahl

21 September, 2018 — By By Dan Carrier

Jack Black is uncle Jonathan

Directed by Eli Roth
Certificate 12a

As any reader of a good Roald Dahl tale will know, a solid yarn should start with a small child orphaned through a violent and sudden tragedy and then head to a place where the new guardian is either horrendously evil or spectacularly special. Novelist John Bellairs has taken a leaf from the master storyteller’s book and this is the result.
We meet 10-year-old oddbod Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) as he boards a Greyhound bus to meet his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) for the first time in the town of New Zebedee.

Portly, oddly dressed, bearded Uncle Jonathan lives in a gothic mansion of such clichéd proportions that as the door creaks open for the first time, the viewer can’t help but believe you’ve been there before. For the home of an eccentric warlock, as we discover Uncle J is, there are very few surprises in store.

Uncle J is a kindly if rather irresponsible guardian, and he and his best mate, witch and next door neighbour Ms Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) are searching the house for a mysterious clock former friend and colleague Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) has hidden within its interior.

We learn this clock has something to do with a dastardly plan to turn things back to before humans walked the Earth, a Doomsday Clock that has been set by magic and that our heroes must locate and stop. So poor Lewis has to deal with this, while also making new school friends, coming to terms with his parents’ demise, getting over the sheer weirdness of his uncle and learning some basic magic.

Black and Blanchett whistle through the show like they are doing panto. It’s all well and good, but they are such seasoned performers, I had hoped for a little more oomph.

It has its moments – the set designers have clearly enjoyed themselves – but too many jokes are beyond lame and just don’t raise a laugh (a topiary lion in the garden that comes to life and poos is about the level you can expect).

Above all, for a film that is meant to be quirky and weird, it doesn’t quite reach the level of eccentricity it aims for – it’s a shame, as it has an ace cast and a solid story the demographic it is aimed at (I’d say years 6s, 7s and maybe 8s) will enjoy, and not a meagre budget to bring director Roth’s vision to life.


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