Nicholas Hoult in "Jack the Giant Slayer." (Warner Bros. )
Continuing the recent trend of adapting fairy tales into effects-heavy adventure films — see also "Red Riding Hood," "Mirror Mirror," "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" — "Jack the Giant Slayer" arrives Friday with Bryan Singer in the director's chair and Nicholas Hoult in the title role.
Alas, like many of its predecessors, "Jack" is not faring well with critics, many of whom find it generic and uninspired. (Note the many "fee-fi-ho-hum" puns cropping up in reviews.)
The Times' Kenneth Turan laments that "there may never have been a Jack tale that delivered so little pleasure for so many dollars as what we have here." (The budget is estimated around $190 million.) He adds, "With some momentary exceptions, 'Jack the Giant Slayer' simply isn't any fun." It's rarely a good sign when a screenplay has five names on it, Turan points out: "The indifferent, unsurprising script that these men cobbled together has all the earmarks of being an assignment, an exercise in the arbitrary with no organic reason for being." One redeeming element at least is Ewan McGregor, "at his best" as the knight Elmont.
The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan asks, "Who exactly is this movie for?" The film "is stuck between two extremes. Too scary for very young children, yet too silly for most older fans … 'Jack' seems designed to appeal to a very narrow, and possibly illusory, demographic: the mature moppet."
Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal grouses, "It's hard to be jubilant, or anything close, about Bryan Singer's elaborate riff on the classic fairy tale." Like Turan, Morgenstern finds fault in the writing: "Jack's problem is that he's a commoner, but the movie's problem is that its script is commoner still, an enchantment-free pretext for animated action, straight-ahead storytelling and ersatz romance." Morgenstern says that co-stars Stanley Tucci and Ewan McGregor do what they can, but the leads, Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson, are only "pleasantly earnest" and "terminally bland," respectively.
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis commends the film's giants, "nicely realized through a combination of digital wizardry and motion-capture performances," and says that "for its first 90 minutes, 'Jack the Giant Slayer' is painlessly diverting." But the story "drifts with increasing frequency … because, well, this finally is just a digitally souped-up, one-dimensional take on capped by the kind of interminable blowout that makes many big-studio entertainments feel as long as the last Oscars."
In one of the more positive (though not effusive) reviews, USA Today's Claudia Puig writes, "Vivid visuals are the key to this handsome and moderately entertaining adventure." The film benefits from "a more talented cast than is usually employed for such adaptations," with McGregor providing comic relief and Hoult striking "just the right plucky notes." At the very least, "Jack" isn't the worst in its class, according to Puig: "The tale is engaging, running circles around January's dreadful 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' and other recent fairy-tale adaptations."
That's not exactly a storybook ending for "Jack," but it's something.