Lovely Bones starts promisingly by introducing Susie Salmon (beautifully played by Saoirse Ronan, whose hauntingly light blue eyes and sweet innocence make you want to protect her), a young girl who reveals via narrative voiceover that she will soon be murdered. At 14 years old, Susie is starting to take her first steps out of childhood and into adulthood; she has her first crush and has plunged into photography. But Susie gets played, and it's the foot she still has planted firmly in childhood that allows a neighbor (Stanley Tucci) to lure the girl to her death.
The rest of the film bounces between multiple characters dealing with the fallout from the murder. These include Susie in the afterlife, her father (an unremarkable Mark Wahlberg), the "just going through the motions" detective investigating the murder (Michael Imperioli), her younger sister (Rose McIver), her mother (a detached Rachel Weisz), her could've-been boyfriend (Reece Ritchie) and her killer. With a scattershot story, we never get close enough to any of these other characters to empathize with them, and I was left a little bored. Susan Sarandon also appears as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, pill-popping grandma who comes to watch the children after Susie's parents' marriage falls apart. Jackson uses Sarandon's character to "treat" the audience to a comedic music montage of fish-out-of-water housework that feels about as appropriate as breaking wind during a eulogy.
[image-2]Looking on the bright side, there is Stanley Tucci's terrifying portrayal of Susie's murderer, George Harvey. Harvey is the type of guy that every neighborhood seemed to have in the '70s. He is a good neighbor, affable if a little quirky, the kind of confirmed bachelor you'd expect to be living with his mother. Out of the public eye, however, Harvey is calculating, manipulative and pure evil. Every time Tucci appears on screen, I felt spiders on the back of my neck and couldn't sit still. He isn't a character you love to hate, but one you genuinely fear.
But even with the Harvey character, Jackson still gets in the way. For some reason, Tucci's character has been given jowls reminiscent of Marlon Brando in The Godfather and colored contacts just a shade darker than Marilyn Manson's. Although intended to be frightening, both actually take away from Tucci's menace. Lastly, and perhaps most bothersome, George Harvey's ultimate fate feels like it was tacked on to please a focus group rather than bringing an organic resolution to his story.
Ultimately, the central mystery to The Lovely Bones is what keeps Susie from moving past the "in-between place" and into heaven. Is it regret? Is it a thirst for vengeance? Unfortunately, the answer as presented by Jackson rips the viewers out of the story and plops them right back into their theater seats, mouths agape with incredulity. Not only does he violate the metaphysical rules established earlier in the film, but also those of simple basic morality so much so, that nothing he did in the remaining minutes of the movie was able to draw me back in.
[Editor's Note: Tampa lawyer Roger Breit was the recipient of CL Holiday Auction item #41: Be A Movie Critic!, a gift from his longtime movie-going friend who thought it long past time that Roger was granted a soapbox from which to share his film criticism. Thanks to the generosity of people just like Roger's friend, The CL Online Holiday Auction raised more than $12,000 for The Children's Home. Take it away, Roger ...]
In The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson presents himself as a Jackson-of-all-trades (or in this case, themes) but a master of none. The movie (based on the best-selling 2002 novel by Alice Sebold) wants to be a murder-thriller, a ghost story, a family drama, an exploration of the afterlife and an examination of what things in life are truly important. Unfortunately, by trying to tackle so many meaty themes, Jackson gives short shrift to all of them. The director also keeps flipping the viewer between a beautifully convincing recreation of the early 1970s and an afterlife that resembles a Robert Rodriguez kids' movie. Imagine alternating between Milk and one of the Oompa Loompa numbers from Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and you'll get the general idea.
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