A shake ‘n’ bake Brit teen-spy actioner, without a smidgeon of originality, humor or involving characterization, “Stormbreaker” is a high-profile bust. First pic in a hoped-for series based on the Alex Rider novels by Anthony Horowitz, this franchise doesn’t look like it will even get to second base without a radical rethink. Opening July 21 in Blighty, amid much hoopla as a “homegrown” blockbuster, film pulled a disappointing $2.3 million from 370 screens the first weekend and looks to wilt fast once word gets out, even among Rider fans. Stateside, it’s skedded for Oct. 6, via The Weinstein Co.
Horowitz’s young-adult novels, centered on a 14-year-old school boy who becomes an agent for MI6, have a semi-believability that’s completely vanished in this first screen version, scripted by the author himself. Mulched down into standard action fare, and directed by TV vet Geoffrey Sax (“White Noise”) as if he’s analyzed every Hollywood blockbuster of the past 25 years, pic emerges as a coldly calculated exercise in mid-Atlantic filmmaking that’s unsure exactly who its audience is.
This is a British “Spy Kids” without the fun, or a teenage “Johnny English” without the humor. Not helped by a wooden perf from (then 15-year-old) newcomer Alex Pettyfer as Rider, pic yoyos between eccentric supporting perfs by locals (Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Stephen Fry), who try to squeeze some laughs from the witless script, and bemused perfs by Yank guests, Mickey Rourke (as a mixed-race villain), Alicia Silverstone (as a housekeeper called, uh, Jack) and Missi Pyle (as a distant relative of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS).
Luckiest thesp is Ewan McGregor who, as Rider’s largely-absent uncle, Ian, doesn’t survive the opening credit sequence. Turns out Ian prepared his nephew for an MI6 career by interesting him in scuba diving, martial arts and foreign languages. Soon after Ian bites the dust, courtesy of Russian villain Yassen Gregorovich (Damian Lewis, in pic’s only effective perf), Rider is recruited by MI6 boss Alan Blunt (Nighy) and his deputy, Mrs. Jones (Sophie Okonedo).
Prior to this, young Rider has chased bad guys through London on his mountain bike, escaped from a car crusher, defeated five meatheads with his kung-fu, and stumbled on MI6’s underground HQ.
So aud already knows he’s not an average school boy. Script then double-underlines this with an unnecessary training sequence in Wales, where he’s officially dubbed “a lethal weapon.”
Story finally comes into view around the midway mark, as Rider visits Darrius Sayle (Rourke, extravagant) at a Blofeld-like HQ in the wilds of Cornwall. There, he uncovers a plot involving rigged computers by the dusky villain and Gregorovich.
Aside from the dialogue, which doesn’t have one decent laugh in it, no attempt is made by Horowitz to capitalize on Rider’s youth in an original way. Upper-crust kid seems to have no weaknesses and operates as simply a teen version of James Bond, sans the wise-cracking charm and sexual frissons. He’s given a g.f. of sorts (Sarah Bolger), but only so he can use her horse in the finale.
Tech package and action staging are slick but impersonal; color processing on the print caught was cold and unattractive. Andrew MacRitchie’s restless editing and Alan Parker’s booming music both add to the feeling of being beaten into submission by a relentless machine.