Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: "Tomorrowland"

Maybe you’ve seen the trailer for “Tomorrowland,” in which a young woman touches a pin and is instantaneously, breathtakingly transported to another place. Like me, you probably found it highly intriguing, but after watching it you didn’t really feel like you had any idea what the movie was about.

Well, I’ve seen the whole film now – and I still don’t have a clear picture of it.

It’s a weird cotton candy concoction. It wants to be fun and fluffy, but the film also has this determined air of mystery to it, like it resents sharing its secrets. And there’s some late portentous stuff that seems way too sour for what came before.

This is surely one of the most disappointing movies of the year, given expectations and the talent involved: star George Clooney, who seems to instinctively gravitate toward quality material or vice-versa; director Brad Bird, one of the top animation filmmakers (“The Incredibles”) who successfully made the jump to live action; Damon Lindelhof, co-creator of the TV show “Lost,” who wrote the script along with Bird.

I’m afraid this may also prove a disappointing review, since I feel like I can’t tell you very much about “Tomorrowland.” Its entire appeal is steeped in guarding its enigma, then slowly – too slowly – revealing itself. Even though I found the movie underwhelming, blurting out its secrets seems a disservice both to the film and its audience.

I’ll stick to things that are shown in the trailer, or you can figure out easily. Given the title and that it’s from Disney, you can guess that it has something to do with the utopian vision of the future from the ubiquitous theme parks. Touching one of these odd ceremonial pins immediately teleports you to a magical, soaring city of arches and scientific advancement -- at least for a while.

Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a smart and gutsy teen who comes to be in possession of one of these pins, and tenaciously follows the thread of its mystery. This includes gaining the companionship of a strange young girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy). She in turn leads Casey to Frank (Clooney), an isolated inventor who appears to be very, very angry at the world.

Together they have all sorts of adventures involving rockets, robots, cross-dimension travel and guzzling Coca-Colas. For a while it almost seems like a science fiction version of “The Da Vinci Code,” with famous locales and figures revealing long-shrouded purposes.

The movie takes a long, long time to get rolling. It feels like a roller-coaster in which two-thirds of the ride is clickety-clacking up that first big rise. The last 45 minutes or so are pretty engaging, but some of the twists are more jerky than thrilling.

Clooney is dyspeptic and missing his usual facile charm. Robertson is buoyant and enthusiastic, though the script often has her saying or doing patently ridiculous things. Young Cassidy has terrific screen presence; somehow she speaks in a very clear British accent, yet I struggled to understand her words.

“Tomorrowland” is a story for and about dreamers, those who dare to strive for something better and never give in to the naysayers. It’s a beautiful sentiment, but the problem with that is sometimes the naysayers are right. And though I dreamed of adoring this movie, I must say: nay.


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