It

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - (Marathon Man) Stranger Things The Goonies Park Max­i­mum Over­drive It, Dream­catcher It,

Dur­ing one scene in Stephen King’s 1986 novel Bill Den­brough — a stut­ter­ing kid who has grown up to be a suc­cess­ful hor­ror writer — is speak­ing with his agent about Hol­ly­wood adapt­ing his work. She says the best he can hope for is that the stu­dio will call on Wil­liam Gold­man

to write the script. “And if it turns out to be some meat­ball who gets the as­sign­ment in­stead of some­one like Gold­man, so what? … Lis­ten to me, Billy! Take the money and run.”

King has clearly heeded this advice for decades, as sur­vivors of the worst King adap­ta­tions — and come to mind — can at­test. The cur­rent in­car­na­tion of di­rected by one Andy Muschi­etti, doesn’t sink to those depths, but it doesn’t rise much fur­ther. This is un­for­tu­nate, if only be­cause a strong cast of young ac­tors was as­sem­bled to play the prin­ci­pals — a cir­cle of seven chil­dren whose Maine town is haunted by an evil spirit (the It of the ti­tle) that takes the form of a spooky clown named Pen­ny­wise.

Jae­den Lieber­her plays young Bill Den­brough in the film, which only cov­ers the child­hood por­tion of the novel (the cred­its in­ti­mate that a se­quel is to fol­low, cov­er­ing the part of King’s tale de­voted to the char­ac­ters’ adult strug­gles with It). Lieber­her is ser­vice­able in a bland role as leader of the “Losers’ Club”; the ac­tors who play his bud­dies are more en­joy­able. In par­tic­u­lar, Jack Dy­lan Grazer as the jit­tery hypochon­driac Ed­die and Finn Wolfhard as mo­tor­mouth Richie are ex­cel­lent. Sophia Lil­lis con­trib­utes a bit of sun­ni­ness to the film as Bev­erly, the only female char­ac­ter in a movie that flunks the Bechdel test.

In King’s novel, the kids grow up in the late 1950s, but the movie places them in the 1980s. This de­ci­sion feels like a limp effort to cap­i­tal­ize on re­newed in­ter­est in the era’s in­flu­ence on pop cul­ture, as ex­em­pli­fied by Net­flix’s (which also features Wolfhard). It also gives the thor­oughly tone-deaf film­mak­ers the op­por­tu­nity to stylis­ti­cally crib from and other ’80s hits. (In­con­gru­ously, the young char­ac­ters rib each other with raunchy jibes that seem better suited to a post-South world.)

There are mo­ments of real hor­ror, but they don’t in­volve the evil clown. Scat­tered among light­hearted scenes of the kids palling around is ugly back­ground ma­te­rial on the char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing dis­turb­ing por­tray­als of bul­ly­ing and sex­u­ally charged con­fronta­tions be­tween Bev­erly and her fa­ther (an icky Stephen Bo­gaert). By con­trast, the nu­mer­ous jump-scare scenes with Pen­ny­wise (Bill Skars­gård, son of Stel­lan Skars­gård) are laugh­able and an­noy­ingly pro­tracted. Here’s hop­ing King draws a better meat­ball for his next adap­ta­tion. — Jeff Acker

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