Friday, March 2, 2012

Short Take: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [Film 2]

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The screen adaptation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second in J. K. Rowling’s series of Harry Potter novels, is a comedown from the first film. The director, Chris Columbus, has long had a weakness for hectic staging, overdone slapstick, and cartoonish overacting. The first third or so (almost an hour) is a Columbus film in the worst sense. The noisiness is more annoying than usual, because it undermines pleasant memories of the first film. The picture doesn’t improve much after it settles down and gets into the main story, which deals with a deadly threat to the Hogwarts School's less than full-blooded students. The screenwriter, Steve Kloves, capably streamlines the plot, and the individual scenes are deftly written. But Columbus can’t build any momentum. The various setpieces seem more about illustrating the story than telling it. The anti-bigotry theme of the original book isn’t effectively dramatized, either. It’s a toss-up whether Rupert Grint or Kenneth Branagh is the worst served among the actors. Grint’s skittish, insecure Ron Weasley was one of the more enjoyable characters in the first film; here, he’s Don Knotts as a British tween. Branagh would seem ideally cast as the showboating narcissist Gilderoy Lockhart, but the performance is painfully overscaled. He often needs a director to tell him no, and one is certainly reminded why. As for Robbie Coltrane and Emma Watson, the stand-out performers in the first film, they're not bad, but they don't make much of an impression. One is relieved when the film is over.

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