Intermittently garrulous, yet generally somnambulant, THE DARK TOWER disappoints on almost every level. Based on the Stephen King series of the same name, the cinematic version blows a kiss to the novels, then goes its own way plot-wise for reasons that defy explanation, unless it’s a scheme similar to the one in Mel Brooks’ classic film, THE PRODUCERS. As in, finance a sure-fire flop by selling shares to investors that total well over 100% and pocket the oversell. Or maybe that’s just me hoping for a universe that makes some sort of sense.
In this version of the story, Jake Chambers (a suitably grim Tom Taylor) is still an 11-year-old living in New York City. It might be 1977, it might not be. All we know for sure is that he has a cell phone. He’s also struggling with nightmares that his psychologist attributes to the death by fire of his beloved father. We, of course, know better. In a preamble to the action, we’ve seen the scenes that Jake draws obsessively playing out. Part of Jake’s problem is that he “shines” (the way Danny did in King’s classic, The Shining, a cinematic adaptation that also underwent liberal revisions by Stanley Kubrick, but, well, Stanley Kubrick). It’s made him irresistible to The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a sorcerer who is bent on using the power of Jake’s mind to bring down the eponymous tower and thereby end the universe as we know it. Jake, though, makes a daring escape the abandoned house that he’s seen in his nightmares, and from there takes the convenient portal to Mid-World and the Gunslinger (Idris Elba), who can help him destroy the Man in Black and save the universe.
King’s novels may have been full of imagination and horror, this film is noticeably lacking in the former, and finds
the latter only in how trite the plot has become. It is a series of predictable moments brought to life with indifferent, even perfunctory special effects. McConaughey’s general sense of effete boredom with his character’s ability to casually catch bullets or snuff out a life with a mumbled command provides neither menace nor madness. Sure, we know he wants to let the darkness invade, but do we know why? Alas, no. The script, co-written by a bevy of credited writers working without visible cohesion, jumps around without actually delivering much in the way of backstory, aside from a derelict theme park on Mid-World, the purpose of which none of the inhabitants can remember. We discover that there were vampires involved only if we stay through the credits, which also inform us that there was a “Dark Tower Consultant.” Whether that was for the actual appearance of the said edifice, or to summarize the story for the filmmakers is not made clear by its placement is the ci-mentioned end crawl.
Idris Elba, I am pleased to report, rises above this miasma. Dashing and charismatic in a world-weary way. Rocking a leather duster with understated panache, he has the requisite gravitas of a man quietly consumed with the desire for revenge. but who still has the wherewithal to enjoy a sugary soft drink when making the leap to our version of New York City.
Rumor abound that this is the first of a series, and the ending implies as much. I admit that I wonder about how the people behind THE DARK TOWER will further bastardize their source material. That’s the problem with trainwrecks. They provoke such morbid curiosity.