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Sendak adaption is 'Wild' mess

Published October 20. 2009 05:00PM

Where The Wilds Things Are is one of this year's worst movies.

Director Spike Jonze has turned Maurice Sendak's classic children's story into a boring mess.

Jonze, born Adam Spiegel, is director of Adaptation (2002), starring Nicolas Cage; Being John Malkovich (1999), and award-winning music videos for R.E.M, Bjork, Weezer and the Beastie Boys.

The movie lacks pace, has mundane dialogue and creatures that are obviously actors in furry suits. Max Records portray nine-year-old Max, one of the most unlikeable screen youngsters since that portrayed by Macaulay Culkin in the Home Alone movies.

Where The Wild Things are is one of the worst movies I have sat through in some three decades of reviewing movies since Sleep Away Camp (1983) and Dune (1984). I did all I could to not walk out. After the movie, the pink-rose afterglow of a wonderful sunset dusted the twilight over South Mountain following days of rain. And I missed it.

Several parents left the screening with their children before the movie's conclusion, possibly because of often intense violence: a creature rips off the arm of another, dirt clods are flung, causing injury to heads and eyes, and large trees are felled and run through with huge holes.

There are a few redeeming moments between Catherine Keener, as the mother, and her son Max.

Jonze, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dave Eggers (Away We Go, 2009), had to expand upon the 1963, 37-page, nine-sentence picture book. Jonze tries to spike it up with three or more music video song sequences and seemingly purposeful scenes where Max, who spends most of the movie in a child's Halloween Wolf costume, walks with Carol to Carter Burwell's evocative score.

Despite computer-generated imagery, Jim Henson's Creature Shop, and special effects, not for a minute do you forget you're watching actors in creature suits with oversize heads. Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini in full New York accent, reminds you the big guy in the suit has anger management issues just like Tony Soprano.

Also contributing voices to no recognizable effect are Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker and Chris Cooper.

Much of the movie is filmed in low light, no doubt to help the movie-goer overlook the actors in suits.

In the final scene, the creatures and Max howl at each other. The big-screen version of Where The Wild Things Are is indeed a real howler.

Where The Wild Things Are: MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language; Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family, Fantasy; Run time: 1 hr, 34 mins.; Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Where The Wild Things Are was filmed in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Box Office, Oct. 16: Where the Wild Things Are opened at No. 1, with a tidy $32.4 million, besting Law Abiding Citizen, opening at No. 2, $21.2 million.

3. Paranormal Activity, $20.1 million, $33.7 million, four weeks; 4. Couples Retreat beat a hasty retreat from No.1, $17.9 million, $63.3 million, two weeks; 4. The Stepfather, $12.3 million, opening; 6. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs; $8.1 million, $108 million, five weeks; 7. Zombieland, $7.8 million, $60.8 mllion, three weeks; 8. Toy Story-Toy Story 2 in 3-D, $ 3 million, $28.5 million, three weeks; 9. Surrogates, $1.9 million, $36.3 million, four weeks; The Invention of Lying, $1.9 million, $15.4 million, three weeks

Unreel: Oct. 23: Amelia stars Hilary Swank as the legendary female pilot; also stars Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor. Astro Boy stars Freddie Highmore as the title character's voice in an animated feature; also with voices by Nicolas Cage and Kristen Bell. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant stars John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek. And there's the uber slasher Saw VI, if you like that sort of thing.

One Popcorn Box out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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