The Dark Tower

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Is it just this for eight books?

“The Dark Tower” is a bland, benign mediocrity that’s probably significantly worse if you’ve read the Stephen King novels it’s based on. As a non-reader (of those; I’ve read other books), I don’t know what level of violence has been done to the source material by director Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair”) and the unremarkable 87-minute (without closing credits) screenplay for which he and three other men are credited, nor can I speak to which of the eight books the film’s half-baked story is drawn from/has ruined.

On the screen, it’s the story of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), an adolescent New Yorker with a strong “shine” (psychic power) that manifests itself as vivid dreams that his mother (Katheryn Winnick) and stepfather (Karl Thaning) think are signs of mental illness. Like all movie children, Jake draws detailed pictures of his dreams, which are of an Old West-ish planet called Mid-World where a cool Gunslinger (Idris Elba) seeks revenge against the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a Satany magician who, with his well-organized multi-world army of human-skin-wearing minions, is trying to destroy the Tower in the clouds that protects the universe from being overrun by extra-dimensional monsters.

But again, that’s the movie. For all I know, the books are about old English ladies who solve mysteries.

Thanks to portals (this is the kind of universe where there are portals), Jake travels to Mid-World and meets the Gunslinger, who is impressed by Jake’s powerful shine. The Man in Black, whose name is Walter, is impressed, too. He learns of Jake’s abilities by having one of his underlings (Jackie Earle Haley) taste some of Jake’s blood (analysis: “His shine is pure”), which they have because the floorboards in the dilapidated Brooklyn house where the portal is hidden came to life and tried to prevent the boy from using it, drawing blood in the process. It’s a tale as old as time.

The film hints at deeper, richer mythologies than it has time for (or than it has interest in, I guess; the movie’s pretty short). There’s a glossed-over, watered-down feel to everything — not rushed, exactly, but disinterested. The stakes seem low even though they are not. But Elba’s stoic Gunslinger is aces, McConaughey is a sonorous, low-key ham, and the kid is fine. Though there are bumpy patches in the narrative, it mostly avoids being ludicrous, remaining a few (but not many) steps above a made-for-SyFy series pilot.

C (1 hr., 35 min.; PG-13, a lot of action violence and gunslinging, barely within the PG-13 range.)