“A WRINKLE IN TIME” — 2 stars — Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller; PG (thematic elements and some peril); in general release
The long list of movies that aren’t as good as the books that inspired them may have a new, disappointing member.
Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s celebrated fantasy novel, Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is the story of an awkward young girl who travels through space to find her long-lost father.
After a short prologue opens the film with a touch of character foreshadowing, we meet Meg Murry (Storm Reid), the young protagonist. It's been four years since her successful scientist father (Chris Pine) vanished, presumably as a result of his groundbreaking physics experiments. In the time since, Meg has gone from a bright and promising student to a bitter outcast, bullied at school alongside her equally gifted adopted brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe).
Opportunity comes one dark and stormy night when Meg and Charles Wallace meet Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a quirky red-haired woman dressed as if she’s en route to her own offbeat wedding. Mrs. Whatsit is one of a trio of supernatural beings that includes Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling). All three share the ability to travel through time and space — they call it “tessering”—and they have come to help Meg and Charles Wallace find their father.
Joined by a boy from Meg’s school named Calvin (Levi Miller), the kids journey with the three women to the planet Uriel, unbeknownst to their mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Surrounded by gorgeous multicolored landscapes, sentient flowers and a Godzilla-sized Mrs. Which, the kids eventually meet another cosmic being named Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) and learn the true nature of their peril.
Apparently Mr. Murry has been imprisoned on the shape-shifting planet Camazotz that is the home of a dark entity called It. It is the source of all evil in the universe, spreading its influence from planet to planet like a virus, replacing hope and faith with fear and anger in the hearts of all it encounters.
Rescuing Mr. Murry will be a risky proposition, since, as readers of the book will know, It also has a way of getting in people’s heads.
Audiences for “Wrinkle” will notice a strong investment in the film’s production, at least in terms of surreal visuals and costume changes for Winfrey, Kaling and Witherspoon. But beneath the spectacle, the term that most frequently springs to mind in describing DuVernay’s effort is “thin.”
Too often, “Wrinkle” feels rushed, a kind of greatest hits overview of a fantastic story rather than the kind of in-depth literary adventure that would capture young hearts. It’s difficult to pin down, only being familiar with the book’s basic plot, but “Wrinkle’s” third act feels especially hasty, as if a good portion of L’Engle’s original story has gone missing on screen.
The translation from book to screen is bound to hit a speed bump here and there, but what makes DuVernay’s effort frustrating is its tendency to have the three "Mrs." characters talk the audience through the film, telling us about the world’s mythos with grandiose exposition rather than letting us discover it for ourselves.
As a result, “A Wrinkle in Time” feels disconnected, its emotional high points feel unearned and in spite of some dazzling visuals, the overall experience just feels shortchanged.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is rated PG for thematic elements and some peril; running time: 109 minutes.