[Screen It]

"A WRINKLE IN TIME"
(2018) (Storm Reid, Deric McCabe) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy/Sci-Fi: With the help of a trio of celestial beings, a middle-school student and her younger brother travel across the universe in search of their father who mysteriously disappeared four years ago.
PLOT:
Meg Murry (STORM REID) was once a happy and outgoing girl, no doubt due to being brought up by loving parents, Alex (CHRIS PINE) and Kate (GUGU MBATHA-RAW), who just so happened to be renowned physicists. But then Alex mysteriously disappeared and hasn't been seen or heard from since, leaving Kate to raise Meg and her now 6-year-old adopted brother, Charles Wallace (DERIC McCABE), by herself. Due to her father vanishing as well as being bullied by other girls at school, Meg is now a sullen middle-school student who doesn't care about her studies or much of anything else, including the attention paid to her by one of her classmates, Calvin (LEVI MILLER).

Things change, however, when the brilliant and precocious Charles Wallace introduces his sister to three celestial beings -- Mrs. Whatsit (REESE WITHERSPOON), Mrs. Who (MINDY KALING), and Mrs. Which (OPRAH WINFREY) -- who claim Alex was transported via a wrinkle in time known as tessering and is now lost somewhere across the universe. All of them along with Calvin then set out to find him by making a similar tessering trip where they hope to get help from the likes of a seer known as the Happy Medium (ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), but must also contend with a darkness known as "It" that's spreading across the universe and is briefly personified by the menacing Red (MICHAEL PENA).

From that point on, Meg must overcome her negative emotions if she hopes she'll be able to find her missing father and return him to their home.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Unlike songs that can often be written in a day or TV episodes that are usually completed in a week, writing a screenplay will often take months and sometimes years to complete. After all, like novels, it's usually a solitary endeavor where one can't immediately test the entirety of the material and get feedback (like with a song), and one where the author must create and populate an entire world with the characters and story they're writing about.

That is, unless they're adapting some other sort of source material, such as a novel. But that can also be tough, especially if one is concerned about meeting the "stay faithful to the material" demands of those familiar with (or fanatical about) the original. And that becomes doubly difficult when one decides to attempt to adapt a novel that's been described by others as unfilmable.

In that regard, one can choose to remain verbatim to the original material, pick and choose various elements to include in the new altered version, or simply try to convey the gist of the story and its characters and themes.

Having never read Madeleine L'Engle 1962 sci-fi/fantasy novel "A Wrinkle in Time," I can't say with certainty what tactic screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell have taken with their adaptation. I can state, however, that as filmed by Ava DuVernay ("Selma"), it's nothing short of a sprawling, unfocused and less than engaging or entertaining big budget mess.

All of which is too bad since the film features not only a young African-American lead in Storm Reed (good in the role), but also a racially diverse cast, some important lessons for youngsters, and marks the first time an African-American woman has helmed a live-action film with a budget north of $100 million.

Not knowing anything about the story beyond what the trailers and TV commercials depicted, I went into our press screening with zero expectations. Alas, I was underwhelmed for most of the film that never seems to settle on a tone, can't seem to get a grip on the material, and episodically moves from one big special effects scene to another.

Some individual moments work, such as an especially weird scene set in a 1950s style suburb where all of the kids are in their driveways bouncing their balls in unison. Their mothers likewise come out in unison and simultaneously call in the kids for dinner, and one invites our protagonist -- along with her younger, precocious brother (Deric McCabe) and a classmate (Levi Miller, handsome, but with little to do) who's obviously attracted to our young heroine -- to join them, but they politely decline and move on.

I have no idea why the scene is there or what DuVernay and company are trying to accomplish with it, but it's, unfortunately, one of many examples of bits that don't fit in or do anything for the collective whole.

The one film I kept thinking of while watching this one was "The Wizard of Oz" where a young girl goes on a surreal trip to another world, meets fantastical characters, and learns a thing or two in the process while trying to get back home. Now nearly 80-years-old, the movie still works on every level.

This one simply doesn't. While there's potential in the premise -- the girl's father (Chris Pine, mostly seen in flashback) mysteriously vanished four years ago while trying to prove the existence of a tesseract that would allow someone -- if they found and tapped into the right frequency in their head -- to travel across the universe due to a bend (or wrinkle, if you will) in the time-space continuum. She hasn't been the same since, and it's her brainiac younger brother who decides they should set out on a rescue mission to find dear old dad.

Needing help, he seeks out three celestial beings (played by Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling) who are aware of the disappearance and offer their mystical services. Alas, Oprah feels flat, Witherspoon ends up being a cartoon character and Kaling is reduced to little more than simply reciting quotes from famous people.

I'm surprised one of those didn't include "There's no place like home." But that would have brought up the Oz comparisons and this one simply can't compete with that masterpiece. While I can't say for sure if the source material was indeed unfilmable, the end result has me thinking it likely was. A misfire all around, "A Wrinkle in Time" rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 6, 2018 / Posted March 9, 2018


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