For a re­view of “The Dark Tower,”

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If “The Dark Tower” had just been an ac­tion film laced with grand sweeps of magic and tex­tured touches of sci­ence fic­tion based on an orig­i­nal script, there’s enough in­ter­est­ing mo­ments to earn the film a pass­ing grade. The sad fact is it’s not an orig­i­nal story from writer/ di­rec­tor Niko­laj Ar­cel, but based on a wildly pop­u­lar se­ries of eight books by the master of macabre, Stephen King.

Once the com­par­isons start, the film ends up a painfully pale ver­sion of the books that hops, skips and jumps through key points. This fly­over ap­proach is such a faint rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the orig­i­nal prod­uct that any­one who has read at least one of the books will feel like the pro­duc­tion was made by Ar­cel aim­ing to con­nect with the au­di­ence through his eye and his hand and not his mind and his heart.

Un­like the books that start in a bar­ren world that’s home to the last pro­tec­tor of the uni­verse, Roland Deschain ( Idris Elba), bet­ter known as the last Gun­fighter, the tale opens in mod­ern day New York. A young­ster, Jake Cham­bers ( Tom Tay­lor), has been haunted by vivid night­mares for a year. He dreams of a world where a dark fig­ure kid­naps chil­dren to use their minds as a weapon to de­stroy the Dark Tower.

The tower is at the cen­ter of the uni­verse and should it fall, the dark­ness wait­ing just out­side the fringes will come flow­ing in to de­stroy every­thing. His par­ents are con­vinced that Jake needs psy­cho­log­i­cal help in­clud­ing aweek­end in an asy­lum.

Jake avoids the pro­gram and be­gins to find clues that re­veal these dreams he has been hav­ing are in­fact vi­sions of an­other world. He stum­bles on away to make the jour­ney to the land he’s drawn so vividly af­ter his dreams where he meets the Gun­slinger. To­gether, they must stop a pow­er­ful wiz­ard ( Matthew McConaughey) from re­leas­ing the uni­verse- end­ing evil.

Not only has Ar­cel stripped the King story of its thick mythol­ogy but he’s re­duced the pro­duc­tion to a stan­dard Old West tale where the lone good guy must face off against the man in black. This in­cludes a se­ries of shootouts in both uni­verses un­til the fi­nal show­down at the just O. K. Cor­ral.

A great ac­tor can help a script, and Elba turns in his usual in­tense per­for­mance breath­ing life into the Gun­slinger that doesn’t come from the writ­ing. He knows just how to play a char­ac­ter with the kind of raw strength that makes most men and women weak but still give the char­ac­ter enough room for an em­pa­thy that makes him a friend to the weak. Elba is the big­gest sav­ing grace in a waste­land of woes.

For an ac­tor with lim­ited cre­den­tials, Tom steps up to make Jake in­ter­est­ing both as an 11 year old haunted by over­whelm­ing images of evil but also as the best hope for sav­ing the day. Credit Ar­cel for never push­ing the young ac­tor too much, a clever way to elim­i­nate a lot of the places where the young ac­tor could have stum­bled.

The weak­est cast­ing is McConaughey. He has played his fair share of rogues and vil­lains over the years, but with “The Dark Tower,” McConaughey never reaches the level of be­ing so sin­is­ter that his mere pres­ence in the scene causes chills. McConaughey tries to be in­tim­i­dat­ing and men­ac­ing, but his per­for­mance never gets any bet­ter than it be­ing just all right ( all right, all right).

It is sin­ful that with a moun­tain of ma­te­rial to work with, Ar­cel’s script never amounts to much more than a hill of ac­cept­able ac­tion el­e­ment beans. There are hints about the worlds that Jake and the Gun­slinger live in hav­ing a deep con­nec­tion from ev­ery­one speaking English to an aban­doned theme park. But, in what can only be de­scribed as an over­whelm­ing de­sire to get the film done in just over 90 min­utes, the fi­nal story is like reading a con­densed ver­sion of the King books done by a group of third graders.

The ac­tion is good but that only makes up slightly for all of the writ­ing prob­lems. A list of those mis­cues could be stacked up tomake their own im­pres­sive dark tower.

Those who end up in the theater with­out any knowl­edge of King’s much her­alded work­will find “The Dark Tower” to be gen­er­ally en­ter­tain­ing. Ar­cel does com­mit a ma­jor emo­tional mis­take with the end­ing that is un­for­giv­able. It’s dif­fi­cult to ex­plain with­out re­veal­ing ama­jor plot point but it’s safe to say a re­ac­tion to a dev­as­tat­ing in­ci­dent is treated with all the re­morse of break­ing a vase.

That’s a su­per size mis­cue but at that point “The Dark Tower” has lost all the mythol­ogy that made the books so good, and one more mis­take re­ally doesn’t mat­ter that much. The best thing to say is adap­ta­tions of King’s works of­ten suf­fer from a weak end­ing. Ar­cel avoided that by mov­ing so far away from the source ma­te­rial any end­ing is aw el­come re­lief.

“The Dark Tower,” a Columbia Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG- 13 for vi­o­lence, lan­guage. Run­ning time: 93 min­utes. ★ ½

“Kid­nap”

Halle Berry stars as a woman who pushes her mini­van — and her psy­che — to the limit while re­triev­ing her young son from ab­duc­tors in the scanty thriller “Kid­nap,” di­rected by Luis Pri­eto, writ­ten by Knate Lee.

There’s not much more to it than that — this mom is fast, and is she ever fu­ri­ous.

This road- bound thriller takes place on the high­ways and by­ways of Louisiana, as Carla ( Berry) goes in hot pur­suit of a pair of kid­nap­pers, straight out of a John Wa­ters movie. They’ve snatched her son out from un­der her nose at the lo­cal fair, but as she de­clares, “you picked the wrong kid,” and boy, did they ever. They never knew they’d have to tan­gle with a fierce wait­ress/ single mom who’s got wheels and knows how to use them.

Pro­duced by Berry, the ve­hi­cle of­fers the star a chance to prove her phys­i­cal might in a low- bud­get genre piece. But there had to have been bet­ter screen­plays out there than this. Lee’s shal­low, ex­tremely dumb script should have been thrown di­rectly into the trash, not brought to the big screen. Since Berry is most of­ten be­hind the wheel of her red mini­van ( she pushes it all the way to 60 mph!) she ends up talk­ing to, shout­ing at and plead­ing with things that can’t talk back— other cars, the ra­dio, a photo, bill­boards, a garbage can.

Not only is the di­a­logue hor­ren­dous, but so­many op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­ter­est­ing twists and turns are squan­dered along the way. Things that are teased early on, like a brew­ing cus­tody battle, never pay off, the con­ver­sa­tion just il­lus­trat­ing Carla will do any­thing to keep her son. No, there are no in­ter­est­ing re­veals or sur­prises— this as straight­for­ward a story as it gets, and it is tis­sue paper- thin.

Berry’s per­for­mance is not nec­es­sar­ily “good,” but it is ef­fort­ful. She is at full- throt­tle for al­most all of the run­ning time, wild- eyed, teeth bared in a Hal­loween mask gri­mace. It is “Hys­te­ria: The Movie,” as she moans and wails to her­self in the car, re­peat­edly shouts at ran­dom passers by to “call 911!” while ca­reen­ing past them on the road, leav­ing a trail of bod­ies ( in­clud­ing a cop) in her wake. It’s a true won­der that no one ever ac­cuses her of be­ing crazy or out of her mind, which would have added some dy­namism to the tale.

But for all of Berry’s breath­less, screechy ef­fort, “Kid­nap” doesn’t con­tain any sus­pense or ten­sion at all. Per­haps it’s the script, or di­rec­tor Pri­eto’s ten­dency to shoot ac­tion scenes with quickly edited close- ups, flashes of images whizzing by like a strobe light. But there’s sim­ply no heart- stop­ping ac­tion — it’s all just a yawn- in­duc­ing snooze­fest that plods along even more pre­dictably than you could have imag­ined.

Berry does get a few awe­some mo­ments, which in­spired cheers and ap­plause from the au­di­ence, mostly when she dis­patches her en­e­mies us­ing the unique fea­tures of her trusty mini­van. If one thing’s for cer­tain, you’ll never look at the much ma­ligned fam­ily ve­hi­cle the same way ever again.

“Kid­nap,” an Av­i­ron Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for vi­o­lence and peril. Run­ning time: 82 min­utes. ★

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Halle Berry stars in the ac­tion- thriller film “Kid­nap.”

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