An ‘A’ for effort only goes so far.
The long-awaited film adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” lives up to the hype … visually. It’s gorgeous to watch, from the swirling landscapes to a youthful cast brimming with curiosity and charm.
Drill deeper, and the life lessons embedded in the saga can’t camouflage the lack of narrative heft. That makes this “Wrinkle” a maddening experience, although one parents won’t regret for a minute.
Young Storm Reid stars as Meg, a brainy girl still mourning the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine). Dad vanished four years ago under mysterious circumstances while researching other dimensions.
Meg’s family is visited by a celestial soul named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon). The colorfully clad sage convinces Meg that her father is still alive but needs her help.
So Meg, along with brainy little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and a local lad (Levi Miller), sets off in search of her father.
It won’t be that easy.
The shifting universes they discover sometimes look just like Earth. A sinister force lurks within, though, turning Meg’s quest into a life or death struggle.
Pinpoint casting can go a long way with a fantasy as broad as “A Wrinkle in Time.” Director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) scores over and again with her troupe of players. Oprah Winfrey brings her Oprah-ness to Mrs. Which despite a series of increasingly silly makeovers. Mindy Kaling and Witherspoon fare better in their respective roles, looking both otherworldly and wise.
The kiddie corp, from Reid to McCabe and Miller, handle the sophisticated themes with welcome restraint. McCabe teeters on child actor tics, but given the story’s somber tone it’s actually welcome.
The finest coup comes with Pine, an actor best known for his Trek swagger. His role is modest here, and conventional to the core. He still invests it with a paternal love that lingers long after his disappearance.
So what about the story itself? It’s a bummer, to be blunt. The narrative skips from one curious moment to the next, the screenplay explaining each twist so we can stay fully involved.
It doesn’t always succeed.
In between we’re fed lessons about family, love and the power of being yourself. The last subject will go down best with adults yearning to give their children a fuller sense of self. It’s Meg’s journey, too, and seeing it come to fruition will leave the young ones cheering.
That’s assuming they can process the slog of a story all the way through.
HiT or Miss: Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic tome won’t miss this big-screen adaptation, but their love for the book won’t be enhanced by what they find.
Being a big-screen Everyman is harder than it looks.
That puts extra pressure on David Oyelowo, the star of the ensemble caper “Gringo.” He’s asked not just to anchor the material, which shifts tonally from one scene to the next. He must be the audience’s surrogate, leading us through a bizarre set of circumstances that would topple most folks.
Oyelowo’s character persists. And so does the film thanks to his durable performance.
Oyelowo plays Harold Soyinka, a frazzled businessman drowning in debt. He’s “poor-poor,” to hear his chum explain it. So he naturally agrees to go to Mexico to help his Alpha Male boss (Joel Edgerton) seal a deal for the company.
Only the boss isn’t leveling with Harold. The trip is a scam, part of a larger plot involving a company merger that could leave Harold unemployed.
And Harold knows it.
What happens next is a series of double crosses, surprise appearances and oh so convenient meetings. Think too hard about any one element and you’ll get woozy. Director Nash Edgerton, a former stunt coordinator and brother of co-star Joel Edgerton, keeps the story humming along, with a witty screenplay that never takes the material too seriously.
FAST FACT: Director Nash Edgerton performed stunts for a number of films prior to his directorial debut, including “The Matrix” and the “Star Wars” prequels.
As good as Oyelowo is, and he’s terrific, Charlize Theron might be a smidge better. She’s part of Harold’s company, a statuesque stunner with her own mischievous goals. She uses sex as a weapon in ways that would make Pat Benatar blush.
And then there’s Sharlto Copley, buried under a thick brown beard but not his signature accent. His character provides more than comic relief. He’s the Karma chameleon, a gent whose life choices suggest the screenplay has more up its sleeve than trailer-approved antics.
It all adds up to a curious, clever experience, albeit one you’ll forget the next day, if not sooner.
It’s the kind of small pleasure theater that barely exists in our feast or famine content age. “Gringo” is never dull but rarely invigorating. It moves at its own pace, thank you, depositing small pleasures in our lap until the crowd-pleasing finale.
HiT or Miss: “Gringo” exists to be discovered on cable or streaming TV, where its modest rewards will feel like a big, warm hug.