[Screen It]


(2012) (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi/Action: Three high school students must contend with their ever-increasing telekinetic powers.
Andrew Detmer (DANE DeHAAN) is a senior at a Seattle area high school with no real friends and a bad situation at home. With his mom, Karen (BO PETERSEN), terminally ill, his dad, Richard (MICHAEL KELLY), has become a bitter and abusive alcoholic toward Andrew. As a result, the teen has taken to recording his entire life on a video camera. That's something that his cousin, Matt Garetty (ALEX RUSSELL), not only thinks is odd, but also knows won't win Andrew any new friends, even if the girl who Matt likes, Casey (ASHLEY HINSHAW), also often carries around her videocam.

Andrew's camera is called into play by Matt and popular student Steve Montgomery (MICHAEL B. JORDAN), who's running for class president, after they've discovered a large hole in the ground outside a party. Going down into it, they encounter a strange glowing structure that ends up giving them telekinetic powers. At first, they think it's a fascinating development, and have fun playing around with their newfound abilities.

But as the days pass and their powers increase, Steve and especially Matt become concerned about Andrew and how he's started wielding his powers towards those who bother or abuse him.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Having just recently gone through stacks of old screenplays and teleplays I wrote back in the 1980s, I had a vested interest in how the new movie "Chronicle" would play out. No, I didn't sell its screenplay way back when only to wait with baited breath for its long-delayed release. And as far as I know, the idea wasn't stolen from me.

That said, I did write a screenplay back in college about a high school student who's exposed to some strange stuff, ends up "coming down" with telekinetic powers, uses them to deal with bullies and such, and must then contend with discovery of said powers by the authorities. It wasn't exactly original way back when, but it was the first script I sent out to Hollywood to be read (and ultimately turned down).

Yet another example of "don't give up on your dreams (or ideas)," a very similar tale plays out in this sci-fi action flick that arrives courtesy of writer Max Landis (son of filmmaker John Landis) and director Josh Trank (who makes his feature film debut). It's a decent, if fairly predictable offering (especially to someone who wrote the same basic story three decades ago) that works far better in its smaller scale moments than once the special effects crew gets involved in the bigger visual moments.

It's also -- unfortunately -- another variation of the "found footage" flick that hit mainstream popularity long ago with "The Blair Witch Project" and occasionally keeps rearing its ugly (and almost always unbelievable) head. You know, the type where one or more characters keep(s) the film or video camera running no matter what the situation might be or perils that are faced.

Here, that character is Andrew Detmer (played by Dane DeHaan), a high school loner with a sad home life, what with his mom dying of some terminal disease while his dad has coped by becoming an abusive alcoholic. With no real friends to speak of, Andrew decides -- for reasons not made clear and certainly not believable -- to document his life with his camera.

That includes taking it to a high school drinking party with his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell) and where the school's most popular student, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), needs to borrow the camera for the light on it. You see, they've discovered some sort of hole and cave-like complex in a nearby field and feel drawn to explore it. Lo and behold, a glowing structure down there imbues them with telekinetic powers and thus our origins story begins.

Unlike many of their counterparts in the "X-Men" flicks or the TV show "Heroes," our trio is new to the whole "think and it shall be" reality, and thus there are early scenes where they mess around with their abilities, mostly for comedy and/or awe on the part of we viewers. Considering that Andrew is picked on at home, school and in between, we know the fun and games will soon turn into some comeuppance.

And while he might make introspective comments about natural selection and the world view of apex predators, the more appropriate quote that obviously applies is Lord Acton's "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Having that theme play out up on the screen certainly isn't novel (heck, even an old episode of the original "Star Trek" was based on that), but while the film seemingly inevitably had to go down that path (based on how things are set up), that ends up being its weakest element.

Some of that obviously stems from how the screenplay doesn't get terribly imaginative with the material, but also in how DeHaan tries to portray it. He's fine and clearly believable as the put-upon high school loser. But as the increasingly megalomaniacal and vengeful "god" with seemingly endless powers, I just didn't buy into the portrayal, nor did I feel sorry for the character and his course of evolution (or devolution if that's how you process what occurs).

And once the plot turns into a mano-a-mano confrontation between two of the "super teens," I lost most interest in the flick. That's particularly true with repeated scenes of the bad character blasting cops and their cars backwards when he's not bashing into and through various buildings and such battling the "good" mutant teen. I know, that's how most comic book style movies conclude (with lots of violent pummeling and related special effects), but it isn't handled with terrific aplomb here, and clearly isn't novel in any sense of the word. And don't get me started on the camera still rolling through all of that, "held" up by telekinetic powers during the big bouts and such.

Hopefully one day filmmakers will find an old film that explains that "discovered footage" films have already jumped the shark and do nothing for storytelling other than turn motion sickness prone viewers into nauseous ones. Decent for a while but ultimately falling prey to the same old, same old third act, "Chronicle" was better -- at least in my opinion -- when it had a different title on the cover and was penned with more care and thought by yours truly. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 31, 2012 / Posted February 3, 2012

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