'WRIN­KLE' IS A CLUT­TERED, DIZZY­ING JUM­BLE

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Film - Re­view: Jo­ce­lyn Noveck AP Na­tional Writer

Go ahead, pick your fa­vorite young, vil­lain-van­quish­ing fan­tasy hero­ine. Meg Murry prob­a­bly came first. Kat­niss Everdeen? She ar­rived in 2001. Hermione Granger? That was 1997. El­phaba, the green girl from "Wicked"? 2003. But Meg, the re­luc­tant, be­spec­ta­cled hero­ine of Madeleine L'En­gle's clas­sic "A Wrin­kle in Time," has been wwith us, and on the shelves of mid­dle-school­ers, since 1962.

En­ter Ava Du­Ver­nay, tapped by Dis­ney to put her own spin on this tale of self­dis­cov­ery across the space-time con­tin­uum, for the big — RE­ALLY big — screen. Talk about pres­sure. And the tal­ented "Selma" di­rec­tor does not shy away from the task of adapt­ing the story to the 21st cen­tury. With the help of a ter­rif­i­cally di­verse cast an­chored by the sweet — but too sweet, here — new­comer Storm Reid, and A-lis­ters like Oprah Win­frey and Reese Wither­spoon, Du­Ver­nay has made a film that is un­abashedly — some might say re­lent­lessly — of the mo­ment. Hip-hop quotes, eat­ing dis­or­ders, a "Hamil­ton" ref­er­ence? Yup, yup, yup.

It's also all over the map, in ev­ery way pos­si­ble. It's visu­ally gor­geous at times but then bor­ing to be­hold at oth­ers, emo­tion­ally poignant at times but stun­ningly cloy­ing at oth­ers. It's also con­fus­ing (though to be fair, many might call the book con­fus­ing, too.) Mostly, it's just a frus­trat­ing whole com­prised of some pretty promis­ing parts.

We be­gin, as "Wrin­kle" fans surely know, with that "dark and stormy night." It's been four years since Meg's beloved fa­ther, a physi­cist, dis­ap­peared mys­te­ri­ously. Dad (not re­ally the nerdy type we imag­ined from the book, but it's Chris Pine so, OK) had been

ex­plor­ing se­ri­ous is­sues in­volv­ing time travel. And now he's gone, leav­ing Meg (Reid), her mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and pre­co­cious lit­tle brother Charles Wal­lace (Deric McCabe) won­der­ing if they will ever see him again.

The out­side world is dis­mis­sive, in­clud­ing the school prin­ci­pal, who flat-out tells Meg her dad prob­a­bly won't be com­ing back. Meg has prob­lems at school — she's said to be ag­gres­sive and trou­ble­some, al­though frankly, this is hard to see from Reid's ap­peal­ingly thought­ful, sweet de­meanor. When Meg throws a ball into the face of the reign­ing mean girl, Veron­ica, land­ing her in the prin­ci­pal's of­fice, it seems strangely out of character.

In any case, soon Meg, Charles Wal­lace and friend Calvin (Levi Miller), whose quirky character has sadly been turned into a blandly hand­some noth­ing, will be on their jour­ney, via a time travel con­cept called a tesser­act (verb: tesser­ing), to find Dr. Murry.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing them on this per­ilous quest, at var­i­ous stages, is a tri­umvi­rate of very en­ter­tain­ing older women, er, ce­les­tial be­ings — Mrs. What­sit (Wither­spoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kal­ing) and Mrs. Which (Win­frey). Wither­spoon is the most en­gag­ing of the bunch — ditzy and charm­ing and, at 2,379,152,497 years of age, the youngest of the group.

Win­frey's Mrs. Who is the grande dame, im­pos­ing with dra­matic white hair, sparkling lips and eyes in var­i­ous hues, and gems across her fore­head, ex­hort­ing Meg to be a war­rior in tones that re­call the late poet Maya An­gelou; Win­frey has said she was chan­nel­ing both An­gelou and the good witch Glinda. Would that Win­frey could speak An­gelou's own words, though, rather than the of­ten hol­low lines she's given by screen­writ­ers Jen­nifer Lee and Jeff Stock­well. Kal­ing's character is the least com­pelling, maybe be­cause she's "evolved past lan­guage" and thus only al­lowed to spout quotes from oth­ers, a di­verse bunch that in­cludes Bud­dha, OutKast, Kahlil Gi­bran, and Lin-Manuel Mi­randa.

Af­ter an ini­tial stay on the rav­ish­ing planet Uriel, and a visit to the Happy Medium (a comic Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis, clad, as he notes, in earth tones), the kids end up on the fright­en­ing planet of Ca­ma­zotz, ruled by the dark force called It. Their time here is the most visu­ally in­ter­est­ing of the film, es­pe­cially the scene of scar­ily alike chil­dren bounc­ing the same balls at the same mo­ment out­side the same houses. Here, they will find Dr. Murry, but their jour­ney will put Charles Wal­lace in grave dan­ger, and Meg will be called upon to de­cide just how brave she can be.

In case you haven't read the book, we won't get more spe­cific. But if you have, be­ware that some el­e­ments — in­clud­ing a pretty ma­jor plot twist in­volv­ing Meg's road to hero­ism — are ei­ther com­pressed be­yond recog­ni­tion (as in a tesser­act, per­haps) or deleted al­to­gether.

The ul­ti­mate themes, though, re­main the same: Love can cut through any­thing, in­clud­ing time and space. And smart girls rock! And our individuality — in­clud­ing our faults — is what makes us strong.

While the faults of this film de­cid­edly do not make it stronger, maybe its well-mean­ing spirit will be enough to ap­peal to a new gen­er­a­tion of Meg Murry fans.

Im­ages: Dis­ney via AP

From left: Mindy Kal­ing, Oprah Win­frey and Reese Wither­spoon in a scene from "A Wrin­kle In Time."

Storm Reid (right) and Levi Miller.

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