A streamlined and clever script lift what should be a trite affair into a merely watchable movie.

Bryan Singer is best known for The Usual Suspects, the first two (and best) X-Men films and 2009’s Valkyrie. So it may be a bit of surprise that he’s making what is undeniably a Hollywood property. For starters, is anyone really clamoring for a re-imagined story based on the Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk fairytales? Probably not. But, in its defense, when does anyone really need a property film? Still, while Singer has experience with graphics heavy films, namely those X-Men films and the sub-par Superman Returns, the subject matter seems a bit odd for him. Or maybe that’s because while it ends up being smarter than it should, it’s still offers what’s mostly expected of it.

The plot is as one would expect, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a lowly farmer but with dreams of something better and with an intelligent mind that could make that a reality. Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), on the other hand, is the princess and is tired of living a dictated life, one that requires her to marry Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) who’s nearly twice her age. So, after escaping from the kingdom she seeks shelter at Jack’s during a storm and, to keep it short, a beanstalk grows, lifting the house (with a trapped Isabelle inside) into the heavens. So, a rescue for the royal daughter gets underway. The leader of the pack is Elmont (Ewan McGregor sporting an slick medieval mohawk), with Lord Roderick and, as the only witness to the incident, Jack in tow amongst a few others.

The story is a bit tired but where it shines is where Singer and his frequent writer Christopher McQuarrie subvert the story’s expectations. They’re not enough to make the film a big success, but they’re enough to manifest why Singer, and McQuarrie, are so revered in some circles. Yet, while they’re able to take the stories in directions most don’t expect, the film still ends up doing exactly what’s expected. That blow is somewhat softened by its quick pacing and at nearly two hours, it never really drags on. Too much blame shouldn’t really be laid upon Singer and McQuarrie because, really, the material just isn’t that strong. It’s another rags to riches, commoner in love with royalty story that, sure is entertaining, doesn’t offer anything that lingers.

It’s tone is also a bit odd, getting a PG-13 rating, event though it stays pretty firmly in the family film territory. It could be a good outing for families with slightly older kids, but it may be just a bit too dramatic and dark for the young ones. It seems to walk the line between wanting to stay light and jovial, while ever so slightly dipping its toes into the dark side, which, again, can be taken as a clever move by Singer but it’s sure to alienate audiences. One the one hand, it’s too juvenile for adults, and doesn’t isn’t as interesting as, say, something like The Princess Bride, to appeal to the older generation but, on the other, it’s just grown up enough that the tots could find it overbearing. Some may find that as part of its appeal, but since the overall story is so slight it may have been better off as a PG that’s geared more towards children than an older crowd.

Still, it could have been worse but it could also be much, much better.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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