Based on a novel by John Bellairs, The House with a Clock in Its Walls follows Owen Vaccaro’s Lewis Barnavelt as he’s sent to live with Jack Black’s Jonathan and Cate Blanchett’s Florence after the death of his parents – with mayhem ensuing after Lewis discovers that both Jonathan and Florence are heavily involved in witchcraft. It’s ultimately clear that The House with a Clock in Its Walls is at its best in its familiar yet affable opening half hour, as filmmaker Eli Roth does an effective job of establishing the personable protagonists and the pervasively off-kilter landscape in which they reside – with, in terms of the former, Black and Blanchett attacking their respective roles with a scenery-chewing gusto that’s awfully difficult to resist (while Vaccaro provides the movie with its much-needed emotional center). The film’s slow-but-steady descent into kid-friendly irrelevance, then, is due mostly to its stagy and somewhat inert midsection, as The House with a Clock in Its Walls spends an almost inordinate amount of time detailing Lewis’ less-than-engrossing exploits within the title locale – with the movie’s disappointing dearth of compelling sequences perpetuating the progressively arms-length vibe. There are some fun bits of special-effects-heavy silliness but on the whole, the picture’s second half consists mostly of set-pieces designed to appeal solely to small children (eg Blanchett’s Florence shoots down sentient pumpkins with a rifle-like umbrella) – which ultimately ensures that The House with a Clock in Its Walls, for the most part, comes off as a misguided misfire that feels long even at 105 minutes.
** out of ****