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Critic Justin Hall: Special effects is Achilles heel for 'The House with a Clock in Its Walls'

Based on the novel of the same name, “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” proves to be a moderately entertaining diversion filled with visual invention and some lively performances at its core. However, the special effects are also its Achilles heel. Well, time is of the essence, so let’s get to it. 

It stars Jack Black as a warlock who takes in his nephew Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) after his parents have died. He doesn’t reveal his secret right away, but as usual in these movies, the kid has some smarts and eventually finds out. He begs his uncle to teach him all he knows and he’s further helped by Black’s neighbor and a witch (Cate Blanchett). These two play off extremely well together.

For the most part, Black’s Jonathan isn’t really that skilled as a warlock and he doesn’t have any rules around the house except one: Do not mess around inside the house which if discovered would unleash a powerful force that will bring about the end of the world. You know, that old ploy. 

In this case, the house that Jonathan lives in used to be inhabited by another warlock and his wife (Kyle MacLachlan and Renee Elise Goldenberry). Together they were a sinister couple who conjured the powerful, magical force. Again, that old ploy. 

The House With a Clock in its Walls was directed by Eli Roth who for once manages to make a movie without the usual splatterfest he’s known for. Instead, he creates a movie that does evoke atmosphere, creates characters and contains a plot that works for about two-thirds of its 104-minute runtime.

Black and Blanchett do offer some magic in their roles and you can tell they’re having a lot of fun with the material. Plus, there are some surprising character-driven scenes that do offer something beyond your typical movie of this sort and those scenes do work well. It’s in the climax where the movie starts to suffer as the plot is put on autopilot for the effects to take over and the developments leading up to it turn into a traffic jam. 

Still, minus that flimsy finale, I am recommending it as a movie that does have a good amount of brains, charm and humor to carry it through. The movie may rely too much on its magic, but the magic works.

Grade: B

(Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language.)

This review is dedicated to the memories of Frank McClleland Jr., Marvin Pope and Clay Harris.

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