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"ARTEMIS FOWL"
(2020) (Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy/Adventure: A 12-year-old prodigy tries to rescue his kidnapped father by manipulating mythical beings of the underworld to find a powerful device that he can use in exchange for his dad's freedom.
PLOT:

12-year-old Artemis Fowl (FERDIA SHAW) lives in a large seaside manor in Ireland with his widowed father, Artemis Fowl Sr. (COLIN FARRELL), and his bodyguard, Domovoi Butler (NONSO ANOZIE). Despite being an ultra-intelligent prodigy, Artemis has no idea what his father does for a living, except that he's often gone from home for long periods of time.

When Artemis Sr. ends up never disappearing on one of those trips and named by the press as being the chief suspect in a series of high profile museum thefts, Artemis realizes he must find his father and clear his name. He gets his first clue via a call from Opal Koboi (HONG CHAU) who says he's kidnapped his father and Artemis has just three days to find a powerful, portal-opening device known as the Aculos to exchange for his father's release.

With Domovoi having called in his 12-year-old niece, Juliet (TAMARA SMART), to help, Artemis realizes the only solution is to summon mythical beings his father taught him about over the years to help. He gets his break when fairy Commander Root (JUDI DENCH) sends fairy officer Holly Short (LARA McDONNELL) to the surface to capture an escaped troll.

Completing that, she stays there to try to clear her late father's name, all of which results in Artemis and Domovoi capturing her and using her as bait to get Root and Chief Tech Officer Foaly (NIKESH PATEL) to send rescue forces. But his real intent is to have them send in Mulch Diggums (JOSH GAD), an oversized dwarf with a penchant for stealing things. Hoping to use him to find the Aculos, Artemis races against time to save his father.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10

I don't recall what grade I was in at the time, but one of those years in elementary school we were asked to report the following day what one or both of our parents did for a living. I distinctly remember my stay-at-home mom trying to explain to me exactly what a "manager of pharmaceutical assurance" was (my dad's job) but I imagine the befuddled look on my face was probably the same as my classmates when I presented the facts.

If the same was asked of the 12-year-old title character in "Artemis Fowl" he initially wouldn't seem capable of answering that accurately despite being presented -- in a rushed fashion early on -- as a hyper-intelligent prodigy. And that's because his dad heads off for days or weeks on mysterious missions that are never explained to him, something we obviously imagine will be addressed during the 90-some minute film based on Eoin Colfer's novel series of the same name.

As the usual disclaimer, I haven't read any of the author's works that revolve around the kid and his exploits and thus can't make any sort of comparison between what happens on the page and the screen.

But as a standalone offering, it just doesn't work. With paper-thin characters (including the wholeheartedly off-putting protagonist -- which is the kiss of death for a flick like this), a similarly slender plot that's nonetheless overstuffed with roles and beings, middling at best special effects and the feeling that director Kenneth Branagh never had complete control -- or someone higher up hacked up his work in the editing booth trying to "fix" things -- the pic is neither engaging nor entertaining.

Originally intended for theatrical release but then moved over to the Disney+ streaming service in wake of COVID-19 shuttering theaters around the world, it's obvious this offering was designed to kick off a series of films revolving around the title character. Unless it proves to be a hit among kids watching from home, it seems highly unlikely there will be a follow-up.

As told in flashback by a Hagrid-looking character named Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) who's being interrogated in a remote location by MI6 agents, we hear the tale isn't about the namesake father (Colin Farrell) but rather his son (Ferdia Shaw, completely miscast and/or addled with a lackluster character and/or bad direction).

We then learn that dear old dad is often gone for long periods of time, thus leaving the boy with his bodyguard (Nonso Anozie) as his sole companion. They live in an immense, seaside estate in Ireland where his dad raised him with tales of fairies, elves, and other mythical beings that we obviously know will show up after their voice-over introduction.

When Artemis Sr. ends up missing and accused of robbing museums of antiquities, it's up to his son to find and rescue him. Cue the flick's nebulous to a fault villain, Opal Koboi (reportedly played by Hong Chau but looking like a cloaked Jawa from "Star Wars" and sounding like "Lord of the Rings" Gollum's cousin) who's kidnapped the dad and wants a powerful device he reportedly has stolen.

To get his hands on that and exchange it for his dad, Artemis must manipulate the beings of a world beneath the surface where Commander Root (Judi Dench, needing to fire her agent after this and "Cats") runs the show. With word that one of their kind has escaped up top, Root sends one of her fairy officers, Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) to retrieve that rampaging troll, but she sticks around in hopes of clearing her late father's name. All of which results in her coming into contact with and being captured by Artemis and his butler-bodyguard.

The rest of the story -- adapted by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl -- is about...well, nobody is going to care. From what I can tell, a lot has been altered and condensed from the books, thus potentially alienating reader fans.

For novices to this world, it just comes off as confusing and overstuffed but also emaciated in terms of character development and story interest. And with a snotty and condescending title character, any hopes of tapping into "Harry Potter" goodwill -- the comparison is simply too hard to ignore -- and rooting for his success ends up a moot point.

As a result, and if asked in their schools, I imagine the kids of most anyone who worked on this won't brag about or even mention their parent's involvement in this project. And that's because it's a big misfire pretty much any way one looks at it. "Artemis Fowl" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 10, 2020 / Posted June 12, 2020


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