There is a small genre of films that entail stories that come to life. Jumanji, Neverending Story, Spiderwood Chronicles and recently Adam Sandler's Bedtime Stories are films one immediately thinks of along these lines. One might also be familiar with Steven King's short story "Word Processor of the Gods," in which whatever a man writes on his word processor comes true. That story reveals some of the dark side to the notion that stories might actually break through the barrier between fiction and reality, crossing a divide which might be better left in the imagination.
Now we have Inkheart. In this telling, Brendan Fraser plays Mo Folchart, a "silver tongue," one for whom everything he reads out loud actually comes to life. The twist is that by calling characters from the story into our world, someone must go into the book. This has dire consequences when Mo reads the story Inkheart, bringing nefarious characters from this fantasy book to our world and sending Mo's wife, Resa, into the story. Also coming from the novel is Dustfinger, a man who can bring fire from his hands. All he wants is to go back into the story to his family. As written, he is a conflicted character who has a sense of right but whose courage often fails him in pursuit of right. The plot of the film largely follows the efforts of Mo and his daughter Meggie to get Resa back, thwart the evil intentions of the baddies who have escaped the novel, and get Dustfinger back where he belongs.
I am sorry to say that the film largely fails as a fantasy/adventure film geared toward young adults. It is somewhat like Spiderwood Chronicles in that it attempts to create a world of wonder (imagine if characters such as the Minotaur or Toto from Wizard of Oz actually roamed the earth), but instead the world of the film is depressingly gray, uninteresting, and fails to capture the imagination. I do think Inkheart is superior to Spiderwood Chronicles, but as Spiderwood is one of the worst films in recent memory, that is faint praise.
Inkheart is full of undeveloped characters. Helen Mirren is disappointing as the great-aunt who serves virtually no purpose in the story, existing only to act the grumpy old woman. She re-appears at the climax of the film for absolutely no reason other than to have all the characters there at the end. As she works her way back to the bad guys' castle she expresses doubt as to why she is doing this or what she can do to help her family. The audience has a similar reaction.
The plot is largely formulaic and maddeningly predictable. Think of all the great characters in the history of fiction. The story could include any number of them with thrilling results, yet all we get are some supernatural creatures in cages who do nothing until the end. Even then they do not figure prominently in the action. I mean, the bad guys have the crocodilele from Peter Pan, ticking clock and all. Isn't that cool? Shouldn't that crocodilele do something other than been seen through bars a couple times? The actual script is wooden, with characters saying nothing interesting or thought provoking. They themselves seem to lack any sense of wonder regarding the magic in their presence. An exception is Jim Broadbent who has a winning turn as the author of the book Inkheart. He is inappropriately amused at how his characters-come-to-life so mirror his intentions for them. He is even gleeful that the bad guys are just as he planned them. Paul Bettany is also fine as Dustfinger, but he has it easier than other actors as his character is actually somewhat complex. I am afraid the rest of the cast cannot overcome a weak script.
It's sad to have to pan this film, as it actually is a great premise. But the actual execution does not have anything near the imagination of the basic story. In a story about imagination come to life, that's a pretty serious failing.