THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS
2.5 stars (out of 4) 1 hour, 44 minutes
Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language
PLOT: A young orphan boy moves in with his warlock uncle, and begins to learn about the world of magic. Soon, the boy and his newly adopted family, which also includes a friendly witch, find themselves going toe to toe with evil forces.
SCOOP: The film is based on the 1973 novel by John Bellairs, and viewers who enjoyed “Goosebumps” have a reasonably good chance of warming to this project. Jack Black is likable as freewheeling warlock Jonathan Barnavelt, and Cate Blanchett is solid as the friendly witch Florence Zimmerman. Owen Vaccaro has a nice starring turn as Lewis Barnavelt, an orphan coming to terms with the death of his parents and a magical world he never knew existed.
The art direction and special effects for the movie are appealing, and the scary sequences are mild, meaning most children older than five should be OK with the content. There aren’t a lot of live-action films targeted at this audience, and that’s a feather in the cap of director Eli Roth, who is better known for darker projects, including “Hostel,” “Cabin Fever” and “Death Wish” (2018). Alas, “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” isn’t as charming as similarly themed works (think “Harry Potter”), and it’s paced on the slow side. Bottom line: It is a reasonable escape for parents looking to treat their youngsters to Halloween fun, but it won’t be remembered as a classic.
STARRING: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Colleen Camp
DIRECTOR (co-writer): Eli Roth (“Hostel,” “Cabin Fever,” “Death Wish”)