Dir: Geoffrey Sax. UK-US-Ger. 2006. 93mins.
Geoffrey Sax's Stormbreaker, the first in whatthe producers are hoping will become a new British movie franchise to rival Spy Kids or Harry Potter, announces its intentions right at the outset. The audienceare treated to a frantic chase in which James Bond-style superspyIan Rider (Ewan McGregor) flees gun-toting enemies.It's an impressive sequence with pounding music, ultra-slick stunt work andspecial effects, and a finale with an assassin hanging upside down from ahelicopter like a bat.
Stormbreaker is solidly crafted and entertaining fare throughout. The onus is onaction. Snappily directed by Sax, the film flits from set-piece to set-piece infrenetic fashion. The downside is that the characterisation is skin deep. We'regiven little sense of what drives its 14-year-old hero Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer).
The $39m feature is releasedin the UK on July 21 to tie in with the school holidays, prior to its USrelease through MGM Studios-The Weinstein Company in early September. Initialbox-office in Britain is likely to be very brisk. Stormbreaker may not be on thescale of the big summer movies, but importantly, it has a week's grace beforethe arrival of Pixar's Cars in British cinemas. It has already been given a big push bydistributors, Entertainment. A video game inspired by the movie is beingdeveloped and a major UK exhibitor recently announced that it will give away afree copy of a bonus chapter of Stormbreaker with every ticket to the film.
The film should also prosperbeyond home. The Alex Rider books are already big-sellers internationally andthere is no reason why the movie should not emulate them. Although the filmplays up its Brit credentials, using well-known London landmarks at everyopportunity and even throwing in a horse ride through Regents Park andPiccadilly Circus, it never seems narrowly parochial.
The question is whether it willcapture the public imagination to a sufficient degree to justify the plannedsequels. Point Blanc, the next AlexRider instalment, may shoot as early as late 2007 - as long as Stormbreaker hitsthe mark. As the box-office failure of Working Title's big screen version of Thunderbirds underlined, it remainsextraordinarily difficult for British producers to create new movie franchises.Stormbreakeris certainly a bold attempt at making a commercial teen movie with realinternational appeal. It would be a huge boon to the UK industry if it succeeds.
This is a story of teenagederring-do. Alex discovers that his late Uncle Ian, to his mind a bank manager,was in fact a secret agent. Ian's minders at MI6 now want the young lad toinvestigate the nefarious plans of tycoon Darrius Sayle (Rourke) who is planning todonate a free 'Stormbreaker' computer toevery school in Britain. Darrius, the spooks know, isnowhere near as benign as he seems.
"I don't want to be a spy.In case you haven't noticed, I'm still at school," Alex protests early on. Theline sums up one of the biggest challenges facing the film-makers: they have tomake a spy movie that is convincing in its own right without ignoring thecentral fact that their protagonist is a kid with growing pains.
Anthony Horowitz'sscreenplay, adapted from his own best-selling novel, initially contrasts theworld of MI6 super-spies with the grubby reality of life as an adolescent inthe school playground. What makes Alex a potentially rich and intriguingprotagonist is his reluctance to be a hero and his sense of betrayal when hediscovers how he has been manipulated by his uncle Ian.
It would be absurd to expecta high-energy, 90-minute spy romp aimed at a teenaudience to explore its hero's vexed relationships with the adults in his life.Nonetheless, more back story might have helped. In Spider-Man and Batman,we're always aware of the two sides of the lives of Peter Parker and BruceWayne. Here, Sax is so preoccupied with chases and fight sequences that Alex'semotional life is all but neglected. There is no time for romance between Alexand the attractively named Sabina Pleasure (Sarah Bolger), whose horse heborrows for a mad dash across central London. Nor is there much attempt toflesh out the burgeoning friendship between Alex and Wolf (Ashley Walters) or justwhat Alex thinks of his unlikely childminder (Alicia Silverstone.)
Perhaps the young audiencesat whom Stormbreakeris aimed won't worry about the one-dimensional nature of the storytelling.After all, Sax moves matters along at a ferocious clip. The film makesimaginative (if occasionally slightly self-conscious) use of London locationsand is pepped up by lively character turns from the likes of Bill Nighy (as Anthony Eden-like spy boss Mr Blunt), Mickey Rourke (the evil tycoon) and MissiPyle (as the Lotte Lenya-likevillainess.)
There is also a likablestrain of self-mocking humour. Here, the device that saves young Alex's lifewhen the killer jelly fish beckons is a brand of acne cream with the ability toburn through steel. For all the references to computers and hi-tech gadgets,this is a ripping yarn in the spirit of Hitchcock or John Buchan.
Pettyfer plays Alex with an earnest intensity whichcomplements the pantomime-style performances of various other cast members.Throughout, there is a sense that the filmmakers don't want to linger. At atime when many protracted summer tentpole movies riskoverstaying their welcome, Stormbreaker is refreshingly brisk.
Isle Of Man Film Ltd
The Weinstein Company
Isle Of Man Film Commission
VIP 4 Medienfonds
Rising Star Entertainment
UK Film Council Premiere Fund
The Moving Picture Company