Filmmaker Tim Burton’s latest is pretty much par for the course: two hours of great art direction in search of a movie.
This adaptation of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” the first entry in the popular young adult series by novelist Ransom Riggs, might be classified as a goth version of the X-Men foundation story: Shunned children with supernatural powers are sheltered and trained in a special facility.
The main difference is that this story unfolds in semi-creepy Victorian circumstances that are right up Burton’s visual alley.
The film looks terrific — so dark and weird that even sunlit afternoons seem gloomy.
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It has the ever-watchable Eva Green as the titular Miss Peregrine, a sort of witchy version of Mary Poppins who can transform herself into a falcon, and Terence Stamp as the occultist grandfather whose secrets launch the story.
What it hasn’t got is any sense of drama, forward motion or a central character interesting enough to warrant our attention.
Young Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a moderately miserable Florida teen (his clueless parents are portrayed by Chris O’Dowd and Kim Dickens, both wasted) who witnesses the death of his beloved grandfather under mysterious and alarming circumstances.
The child psychologist (Allison Janney) who subsequently treats the traumatized teen suggests that Jake go to Wales to confront the reality of Grandpa’s wild tales of the “peculiar children” who were his boyhood friends. Once Jake sees that it was all in the old man’s head, says the shrink, everything will be fine.
Jake discovers that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a rotting shell, flattened by a German bomb back in 1943. And then, magically, he finds himself transported back to the day of the disaster.
Not only is the school restored to its former gingerbread grandeur, but Jake meets Miss Peregrine and her oddly talented wards. Like the lighter-than-air girl (Ella Purnell) who must wear leaden boots lest she float away. Or the teen (Lauren McCrostie) who can start fires with her fingertips.
There’s a tiny tyke with superhuman strength. An invisible boy and another kid who is a human beehive. A girl who can accelerate plant growth.
Turns out that these individuals are living in a “loop,” a single day that is repeated over and over and over again. Kind of like “Groundhog Day” without the humor or metaphysical musings.
If they leave the loop these children will instantly will grow old.
Meanwhile they are always in danger of being detected by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson in full cardboard villain mode), the head of a cabal of eyeball-eating fiends determined to wipe out all peculiar children.
The plot is filled with twists, turns and digressions, most of which will make little sense to anyone who isn’t familiar with the trilogy of books.
What’s most dismaying is that, eye candy aside, there’s not much here to cling to.
Certainly not the lead performance by Butterfield, who made a promising debut in Scorsese’s “Hugo” and a decent followup in “Ender’s Game” but here comes off as bland.
The various children have intriguing gifts, sure, but with the exception of Purnell’s floating girl, who becomes Jake’s tentative love interest, they don’t have a lot in the personality department.
As is so often the case anymore, the whole thing boils down to a big battle in which the children’s magical powers are pitted against Barron and his fiendish minions (who are reminiscent of Jack Skellington from Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”).
By that time you may not care who wins.
Read more of freelancer Robert W. Butler’s reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.
‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’
Rated PG-13. Time: 2:07.
3-D or not 3-D?
Mostly not. The 3-D effects in “Miss Peregrine” are fairly subtle and unobtrusive, which is to say they really don’t justify the extra bucks for a 3-D ticket. The exceptions are the opening and closing segments, which employ multiple layers of background (old photos) against a foreground of printed credits with surprising effectiveness.