- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
he Lovely Bones” is one of those rare movies where the plot gets in the way of the story. It looks magnificent, and is anchored by three unforgettable performances, but when director Peter Jackson has to leave Fantasyland and get back to advancing the story, his sadness is palpable. “But look at all the cool stuff I made here! Don’t make me leave! Waaaaaaah!” The end result is similar to his remake of “King Kong”: Occasionally beautiful and heart-stopping, but ultimately uneven.
The year is 1973, and a lovestruck teen named Susie (Saoirse Ronan) has just been asked out on a date by the boy of her dreams. She takes a shortcut home through the corn field by her school when her neighbor Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) invites her to check out a special hangout area he designed “for the kids.” We see Susie enter Mr. Harvey’s underground hangout/dungeon and escape his grasp, but in truth she is never found and presumed dead. Her father Jack (Mark Wahlberg) refuses to give up the search for her murderer, which causes immeasurable strain on Susie’s family, not to mention the detective (Michael Imperioli) that Jack hounds day and night. Susie witnesses all of this from a magical in-between land of sorts, filled with meadows, giant cliffs, and a little girl named Holly (Nikki SooHoo), who serves as Susie’s tour guide. Susie is powerless to stop the actions of the living, though her classmate Ruth (Carolyn Dando) can sense Susie’s presence.
Those who have read the book know that Susie isn’t just murdered – she’s raped, has her throat slit, and then is chopped up into pieces and thrown into a safe. Jackson shows us none of this (though the dismemberment part is implied), and it’s the right call. He’s more interested in getting her to the limbo land, and those sequences will delight fans of Jackson’s 1994 movie “Heavenly Creatures.” Heck, those scenes will delight anyone, as they are the most enjoyable aspect of the movie. The rest of Susie’s story is predictable melodrama, though Susan Sarandon turns in a very amusing performance as Jack’s booze-swilling mother-in-law. Then, out of nowhere, the movie becomes a breathless thriller, as Susie’s younger sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) suspects Mr. Harvey’s involvement in Susie’s death and takes matters into her own hands. The scene is out of character with everything that comes before and after, but the moment is as intense a scene as you’ll see this year.
Ronan, meanwhile, is quickly becoming the Jodie Foster of her generation. “Bones” does not work without a rock-solid performance from its lead, and Ronan delivers. Likewise, Stanley Tucci had his work cut out for him to make George Harvey menacing but not conspicuous. Tucci holds up his end of the deal, though Jackson didn’t help matters by having the family dog bark at him. (There must have been another way to arouse Lindsey’s suspicion.) Wahlberg is, well, Wahlberg, and Rachel Weisz, who plays Susie’s mother, could have been played by anyone.
You can see where it would be difficult for Peter Jackson to come down to Earth after making four of the biggest movies of all time (at least in terms of scope, if not always box office), and in fairness to him, “The Lovely Bones” is a pretty good halfway mark between “Lord of the Rings” and, say, “Dead Alive.” It showcases Jackson’s uncanny visual sense, but it’s time he unleashes the frustrated writer lurking beneath. Jackson hasn’t written a movie since 1996’s underrated “The Frighteners,” and Lord knows, getting back to basics worked wonders for Sam Raimi earlier this year. Forget other people’s books, Peter, and give us your own personal “Drag Me to Hell.” Please.