If there's one thing I dislike more than a bad movie it's a bad movie with aspirations of greatness, and if mocking films for having ambition makes me an asshole, then buy me some toilet paper, 'cuz I'm an asshole. For example, of my worst movies of 2008 list the film outside of Babylon A.D. that I now most keenly recall as a shudder-inducing, revolting experience that keeps getting worse and worse in my mind isn't Disaster Movie, but Best Picture nominee The Reader. I mean, why be mad at Disaster Movie? It's shit, sure, but it's shit that was conceived, written, and produced specifically as shit for shitty people. So while it's a worse movie it's a lot less annoying than The Reader, a generic, saccharine melodrama that firmly believes itself to be a fucking masterpiece.
Which brings us to The Lovely Bones, based off a novel I've never read which people say is much better than the film. But I'm never gonna read it, so we won't dwell on that. This movie wants to be great. A work of art. Possibly a masterpiece. I have no doubt that Oscars were whispered of at some point during production. But here's the catch: it's no good. It sounded like a few of the blue-haired grannies in my audience were touched, but if all your synapses are still firing properly you won't be joining them. This is one of the most overwrought and mawkish films in years and the more it tries to move you the funnier and more cringe-inducing it becomes. An astounding misfire.
Okay, so a fourteen-year-old girl named Susie Salmon is murdered. Not a spoiler, that's how the movie starts. But oh, it's not over for her yet! We follow Susie on up into heaven where she gets to hang out with other murdered girls and party and everything is magical happiness. It's supposed to be ethereal but just comes off as creepy. She narrates constantly to let us know exactly what we're supposed to feeling at every given moment. The screenwriters leave nothing to chance.
Meanwhile back on earth the movie is going fucking nuts with genres and crazy mood whiplash from scene to scene. Susie's parents, played by the respectively brown and black-haired Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz whose daughters are somehow a pale redhead and a blonde (one of the film's many subtly retarded touches), grieve for Susie in a made-for-TV family melodrama while simultaneously hunting for her killer in a detective movie. Whoa. That's one of the most poorly conceived things I've ever heard of. The tone is manic depressive; at one point the film swerves with neck-snapping force by going from Susie's parents sobbing over their murdered daughter's empty room immediately into a cleaning the house / dance montage scored to upbeat pop rock. It was all I could do to not start convulsing with laughter right there in the aisles.
And let's talk about Mark Wahlberg for a second. He sailed to the raggedy edge of overacting in 2006's The Departed but somehow kept hold, turning in one of the most entertaining screen performances of the decade. But apparently M. Night replaced him with a pod because two years later in The Happening he stank up the joint like nothing I've ever seen from a Hollywood leading man and here in The Lovely Bones he's nearly as bad, still cartoonishly widening his eyes and whining in a high pitch to emote and failing spectacularly. The child playing his fourteen-year-old daughter acts fucking circles around him. Fuck it, kick him out of the industry and pretend The Departed was his swan song.
Okay, so spoilers now if anyone cares: the movie ends with Susie Salmon accepting her death and taking her place in heaven, her family accepting her death and moving on while retaining their fond memories, and her killer dying in a bizarre accident when he falls off a cliff and turns into CGI halfway down. Oh, then the CGI hits some rocks, but I don't know how anyone could have survived turning into CGI like that, so the rocks were really a moot point. And that bizarre, random, pointless, gaudy scene is the perfect ending to The Lovely Bones. Basically, movie sucks, but I still haven't mentioned the worst part: this piece of shit was directed by Peter Jackson.
The Lord of the Rings remains my personal favorite cinematic achievement of the last ten years. I'd been in love with epic fantasy literally since before I can remember, pretty much since I was physically capable of reading, and it was a fulfillment of my wildest childhood dreams to see the genre brought to life onscreen with such love and verve and style and imagination and success. So what happened? How could Peter have fucked up The Lovely Bones so badly? Was the problem the script and subject matter, or as a filmmaker is he just better at operating in the broad strokes of good vs. evil and creature design? Either way, Peter, please, run back to Middle-earth and stay there. I'm still stoked for The Hobbit but my enthusiasm for Jackson's next non-Tolkein movie has been blunted into virtual nonexistence. The Lovely Bones is pretty much a lock for my bottom ten of the year.
1 Star out of 5