Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser, "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor") has been searching through old book stores as long as his daughter, Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett, "Nanny McPhee"), can remember. When he stops in Zurich to visit the Antiquarian Bookshop, she meets a weasel and its fire juggling owner Dustfinger (Paul Bettany, "The Da Vinci Code"), just as dad is finding the book he's been searching for, the one these characters came from in exchange for his wife who now resides within the pages of "Inkheart."

Laura's Review: D+

If this adaptation (David Lindsay-Abaire, "Robots") of Cornelia Funke's popular 2004 fantasy book is close to the source material, then the book and resulting film are the Europuddings of the genre. Take some bits from "Harry Potter" and "Arabian Nights," loads from "The Wizard of Oz" and mix with an original story that we never even get to hear and you get the torturously tedious "Inkheart." If ever there was a director who follows each good film with a bad one it's Iain Softley. His first, "Backbeat," was a well done look at the early Beatles but he followed that with "Hackers." Then came the terrific adaptation of "The Wings of the Dove," again followed by a lamentable "K-PAX." "The SKeleton Key" is an underrated New Orleans set chiller, but now we get "Inkheart," a movie that made me want to be put out of my misery. What do any of these films have in common, even? Mo, it seems, is a Silvertongue (too reminiscent of Rowlings' parselmouths), someone whose reading of a book aloud brings it into reality. When he refuses to read Dustfinger (what kind of second-rate character name is that?) back into the book, Dustfinger rats on him to the book's escaped villain, Capricorn (Andy Serkis, LOTR's Gollum, "Longford"), who sends his henchmen Basta (Jamie Foreman, Polanski's "Oliver Twist") and Flatnose (Steve Speirs, "Eragon") to the Italian villa of Meggie's Aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren, "The Queen") where she and her dad have taken refuge (and where the trouble started ten years earlier). They are all captured and brought to Capricorn, who blackmails Mo into reading treasures into reality. Young Persian Farid (Rafi Gavron, "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist") drops out of the book as well, thank God, because Gavron is the only person in this entire enterprise who's the least bit entertaining. Capricorn already had imprisoned a Silvertongue before Mo, but Darius (John Thomson) has a speech impediment and all the characters he's read out of books are compromised in some way. They all have phrases of the books on their persons and Mo's wife Resa (Sienna Guillory, "Eragon"), who unbeknownst to him is now one of Capricorn's kitchen maids, is mute. Mo uses "The Wizard of Oz's" cyclone to engineer a group escape, and the group travels to find "Inkheart's" author, Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent, "Longford," "When Did You Last See Your Father?"), to find another copy of the book, but Capricorn has discovered Meggie has inherited her father's talent and has her imprisoned. In a climatic scene resembling a Fascist town square rally back at the castle, Meggie is introduced as the reader who will conjure up "Inkheart's" monster, The Shadow, because Brendan Fraser rarely stars in a film that doesn't pit him against a huge, CGI-created monstrous face. That Rafi Gavron emerges well from this mess really makes him one to watch, but there is no one else in this film, including the Oscar winning Mirren and nominated Broadbent, who does much of anything but pocket a paycheck. It's been a while since Bettany has done something notable and while it is admirable he wanted to appear in a film for his child, he should have heeded wife Jennifer Connelly who cameos as Dustfinger's wife, dourly begging that he return home. The production has found some marvelous locations in the Italian Alps, but everyone always looks exactly like a bunch of actors in costume walking through the squares and streets. "Inkheart" is one of those self-aware fairy tales that displays none of the cheeky inventiveness of the original "Shrek" and which doesn't even create its own world. We never even learn who the hell "Inkheart" is. Sad to say, Funke wrote two followups to this mess and if one thinks of what became of "Shrek" in sequels that is a dispiriting thought indeed.

Robin's Review: DNS