I’m wondering if the mutant kids at “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” ever play basketball against their rivals across the pond, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
I’d watch that.
I’d certainly rather watch that than Tim Burton’s adaptation of the popular children’s book about a school for freakishly gifted children. This is a messy, confusing, uninvolving mishmash of old-school practical effects and CGI battles that feels … off nearly every misstep of the way.
It’s like watching a master musician play a piano he somehow doesn’t realize is out of tune.
Burton of course is the mad genius behind “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Beetlejuice” and “Big Fish,” among many other singular works — but alas, “Miss Peregrine” ranks down there with “Dark Shadows” as a rare Burton bust.
The young actor Asa Butterfield (“Hugo,” “Ender’s Game”) is capable of fine work, but he’s bland and blank here as Jake, a Florida youth who feels like an outcast everywhere but at the home of his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), who fills Jake’s imagination with stories of Abe’s childhood in a strange and mysterious children’s home off the coast of Wales.
As Abe tells it, his parents fled Poland just before the Nazi occupation and left young Abe in the care of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who watched over a small band of oddly gifted children like a hawk.
Well, actually like a falcon. You see, Miss Peregrine had the ability to turn herself into a falcon at will.
After Abe is the victim of a vicious attack by a mysterious and evil force, Jake is convinced he must journey to Wales and find the magical home of Abe’s youth.
Weirdly enough, Jake’s parents go for it this plan. Mom (Kim Dickens in a role that makes no sense) stays at home so she can get some work done, while Jake’s dimwit, barely there Dad (Chris O’Dowd) jumps at the chance to take a trip — not because he wants to bond with his troubled son, but because he believes it’ll be a great opportunity to research the bird-watching book he’s apparently been working on forever.
Off we go.
Jake indeed locates the house — but the Germans bombed the school in 1943, and it’s nothing but rubble and ruins.
Until it’s not.
Jake finds a portal to the past and winds up in 1943, on the last day before the bomb struck the home. Turns out Miss Peregrine has two gifts: the aforementioned turn-into-a-bird deal, and the ability to manipulate time so that she and her beloved children can remain safely ensconced in a one-day loop, for all eternity.
Among the students and their peculiar peculiarities:
• Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), who is literally lighter than air and will float away if she doesn’t strap on heavy footwear.
• Enoch O’Connor (Finlay MacMillan), who can resurrect the dead and manipulate them like puppets. (Nice to meet you, Enoch!)
• Hugh Apiston (Milo Parker), who has a live beehive inside of him and has to keep his mouth closed, lest he start vomiting bees your way.
• Claire Densmore (Raffiella Chapman), who has a giant, shark-like mouth in the back of her head.
It’s creepy upon creepy upon creepy — but none of the characters is given much depth. They seem like nice enough youngsters, but the screenplay for “Miss Peregrine” is so busy with time-traveling and mid-movie introductions of new characters, we don’t really get to know or care about most of these peculiar children.
Samuel L. Jackson is the king of shouting his lines in a way that is usually entertaining on a massive scale — but his over-the-top performance as the villainous Barron here is just strident and actually kind of dull. Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine is supposed to be a loving, fiercely protective mother figure, but Green plays her as if she’s one more Peculiar Child away from a nervous breakdown. (Maybe it’s the stress of living the same day over and over and OVER.) Chris O’Dowd is saddled with playing a terrible dad who is also a very boring dad.
Deep into the story, characters are still pausing to explain to one another (and thus the audience) the history of the malevolent Hollowgasts, AND invisible monsters who hunt down Peculiars and eat their eyeballs, AND how the whole time-travel thing works, AND oh by the way Barron has the ability to shape-shift so he can resemble humans, AND now here comes an army of skeletons to do battle with Hollowgasts, AND Jake has to decide if he’s going to stay back in 1943 with the Peculiars (which means he’d be occupying the same timeline as his grandfather, who would be only a few years older), or go back to Florida.
And while the practical effects and the sets and the CGI often provide interesting visuals, all the stuff in the paragraph we just slogged through together added up to one massive movie-going headache.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Tim Burton and written by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Ransom Riggs. Running time: 122 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril). Opens Friday at local theaters.