NEW AT THE MOVIES: Close book on 'Inkheart'
Courtesy of New Line Cinema, Elizabeth Hope Bennett and Brendan Fraser star in the preposterous fantasy epic "Inkheart."

Rated PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments and brief language. 106 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

Whimsy shouldn’t be overwhelming. It shouldn’t be a busy, messy cacophony. By definition, there should be something delicate about it. Charming, even.

“Inkheart” has long since slammed the book shut on that concept, with director Iain Softley cramming in more literary characters and mystical creatures than would seem humanly possible.

The mythology here, taken from the best-selling novel by Cornelia Funke, is mind-bogglingly dense and, often, illogical. Maybe it worked better on the page; on the screen, from a script by Pulitzer-winner David Lindsay-Abaire, it feels like an onslaught.

Brendan Fraser brings his typically stoic demeanor to the role of Mortimer “Mo” Folchart, a bookbinder who’s been trolling secondhand stores for years looking for the medieval adventure saga “Inkheart” in hopes of righting a wrong.

You see, Mo has an unfortunate gift: He’s a “Silvertongue.” That means when he reads a book out loud, its characters literally come to life in the real world. Like, they just pop up out of nowhere. But somehow, when he read “Inkheart,” his wife Resa got sucked into its pages, and in her place, the firejuggler Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) arrived. This is something Mo has never told his 12-year-old daughter, Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett); despite being a bright, inquisitive young lady, she’s unquestioningly been functioning under the false impression that mom just took off when she was an infant.

Anyway, Mo wants to read Resa back into reality, but the other “Inkheart” characters, led by a snarling Andy Serkis as the villainous Capricorn, quite like it out here and don’t want to return to the book. Which raises the question: If you read somebody out of a book, aren’t they out for all of eternity, therefore preventing future readers from enjoying their stories? And if regular people conversely get dragged into those pages, what do they do all day? Just a couple elements that distractingly make no sense.

Meggie, who unknowingly has inherited her father’s ability, finds herself summoning Toto from “The Wizard of Oz” and Cinderella’s glass slipper. Ultimately, though, she must draw out the demon from “Inkheart,” a giant monster known as The Shadow, in a final showdown. The creature is a chintzy-looking swirl of smoke and ash, one of many special effects that aren’t terribly special — simply more sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Rated PG. 87 minutes. One star out of four.

The biggest crime of all in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is not the bank heist that goes down at a New Jersey mall on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Rather, it’s the egregious way in which Kevin James’ innate likability goes to waste.

James’ Paul Blart is a portly pushover who tries hard to be the tough guy as a shopping center security guard. Hypoglycemic and woefully out of shape, he’s failed the New Jersey state trooper exam eight times; nevertheless, he squeezes into his polyester uniform and takes his job as seriously as if he were out keeping the highways safe from speeders and drunk drivers.

In an anemic take off on “Die Hard,” Paul gets his chance to prove himself when a bunch of skateboarding, bike-riding, X-Games refugees infiltrate the mall with plans to rob the bank, taking a few hostages in the process. One of them is Amy (Jayma Mays), the wide-eyed salesgirl at the hair extension kiosk, for whom Paul has the geeky hots.

Paul bumbles his way around and manages to thwart the bad guys, one by one, with his in-depth knowledge of the shopping center’s intricacies as well as a borrowed pink, sparkly cell phone that allows him to connect with cops on the outside. Surprisingly, though, given our would-be hero’s girth and the physical humor that goes along with it, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” has a soft spot for fat people. In an early dinner-table scene with his mother and young daughter, the single dad smears peanut butter on top of a slice of blueberry pie mere moments after finishing his meal. “Go away, pain,” he says quietly to himself as he prepares to savor his favorite comfort food.

It’s a rare moment of believable humanity. You couldn’t buy another one here if you tried.

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