Sony's Adaptation Of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" Bleeds Indifference

Superstar author Stephen King’s prose has proved tough to crack for a wealth of filmmakers since Brian De Palma did it first with “Carrie” in 1976. Just ask King himself. The Mainer famously loathes Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” writing it off as a gross misinterpretation of his book. And for every inarguably successful translation like “Misery” or “The Shawshank Redemption,” there have been half a dozen feeble ones to match; a sorry group that’s just found one of its sorriest members ever in “The Dark Tower.”

Writer-director Nikolaj Arcel and three other scribes have adapted King’s series of eight Dark Tower novels into one 90-minute feature, bafflingly stripping it down to its most basic elements: A boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) teams up with a Mid-World gunslinger named Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) to defeat a demonic sorcerer known as the “Man In Black” (Matthew McConaughey). There is shockingly little more to it than that, playing like a TV pilot crudely pared down after it wasn’t picked up for more episodes.

Even unloved 2003 horror-thriller “Dreamcatcher” captured some of King’s joyfully berserk spirit. “The Dark Tower” bears hardly a speck of its creator’s beautiful madness, content to do little more than function – barely – as a feature film.

Elba is its lone highlight. The “Beasts Of No Nation” actor raises every scene he’s in with his natural charisma, valiantly offsetting some pretty extreme narrative apathy. Arcel and his co-writers saddle both actor and character with the dullest kind of hero’s journey until all that’s left is a performer performing his heart out in the face of complete creative failure. Taylor does his best as the boy from New York City with visions of the destruction of an extra-dimensional tower, but the teen can only do so much to convince us he’s frightened of an extraordinarily hammy Matthew McConaughey.

McConaughey’s disastrous performance as the man who would destroy the titular tower as to unleash all kinds of evil into the ether would lay the film to waste if it weren’t already so dispensable. The Oscar-winner is all kinds of bad here – contrarily disengaged and embarrassingly over-the-top – consistently reminding of how badly the film is missing the point of its source material. Instead of the sprawling, pleasantly familiar series starter that should have been, the movie, along with its villain, bleeds indifference, checking in and checking out without a single creative spark.

Summer 2017 has given us worse reasons to head to the multiplex – “The Mummy” and “Transformers: The Last Knight” linger in mind as the worst kind of cinematic vermin – but none have been as dispiritingly lifeless as “The Dark Tower.” It is, from top to bottom, barely there, harboring not a single memorable image or character moment or line of dialogue to cling to. It is a lock to alienate Dark Tower fans and novices in equal measure, leaving all to look immediately to the near feature for their King-on-film fix. “It” releases next month.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: August 4, 2017
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Screenwriters: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action)