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Retelling of "Beanstalk" fable crumbles under weight of its giant budget, lack of imagination and predictable plot

Elmont (Ewan McGregor, left) and farm boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult, right) go up the beanstalk to rescue Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) in “Jack the Giant Slayer,” director Bryan Singer's adaptation of the fable.
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Starring: Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson, Eddie Marsan, Bill Nighy, Cornell John, Andrew Brooke, Angus Barnett, Ben Daniels

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Stars: 2 out of 4

Rating: PG-13

It’s fun to play along with “Jack the Giant Slayer” for a while, as it does have its charms as a slick and polished Hollywood reinterpretation of the “Jack and the Beanstalk” fable.

 

Then comes a scene that lets us safely check out about 45 minutes in: After learning that the giants will stop at nothing to once again rule the Earth, Stanley Tucci’s Roderick is surrounded by the large brutes. They're so big — and they kill and eat humans so easily, without remorse — that mankind would have no defense against the gruesome ogres. Yet Roderick is able to put on a crown that was forged in a special place, and all of a sudden, the giants bow to him and treat him like their king. Wait … what?

 

If we’re supposed to believe the giants are desperate for world domination, it’s hard to swallow that they’ll let a silly headpiece get in their way. Here’s an idea: Flick Roderick away with your finger, take the crown and worship one of your own.

 

This crown calamity is worth mentioning because it also factors into the unsatisfying ending, which is a shame, because some of the 3D action and visual effects sequences are impressive. What’s more, the 3D is crisp and clear, though it doesn’t offer much in terms of depth. If you go see this fantasy, regular 2D should be just fine.

 

The story: A long time ago in a small English kingdom, teenage farm boy Jack (Nicholas "About a Boy" Hoult — yeah, the geeky kid's all grown up!) happens upon some magic beans that get wet and grow into a tall, tall beanstalk. In Jack’s beanstalk, as it rises high up into the clouds, is Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). On the ground, King Brahmwell sends Jack and guardians Elmont (Ewan McGregor), Crawe (Eddie Marsan), Roderick and others up the beanstalk to rescue Isabelle. In the clouds, they meet CGI-created giants General Fallon (Bill Nighy) and his minions Fee (Cornell John), Fye (Andrew Brooke), Foe (Angus Barnett) and Fumm (Ben Daniels, “House Of Cards”), all of whom want to reclaim the kingdom on the ground as their own.

 

Tomlinson is a bit bland for a female lead, but more damaging is the storyline that noticeably deviates from the famous fable and yet it's still 100 percent predictable. It never ceases to amaze how movies that utilize such advanced technology for visual appeal can suck so royally in basic storytelling. It’s not asking much to keep things interesting while giants fling burning trees into a castle, or to give a star like McGregor more to do than be a third wheel.

 

The film, shot in 2011, was first slated for release in June 2012. Warner Bros. pushed that up to March 1, because this time of year offers a similar platform to WB’s successful “Clash of the Titans” and “300” releases.

 

Box-office tracking numbers suggest the opening weekend for “Jack the Giant Slayer” will be a weak $30 million or so (the budget was roughly $190 million), not a good sign for Singer, who started his career with “The Usual Suspects” and “X2,” but has recently given us drivel like this lemon and Tom Cruise’s “Valkyrie.” Here’s hoping he returns to form soon. 

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