'The Dark Tower' Is A Dump No Audience Should Have To Live In

“Where I come from we don’t have chicken,” Matthew McConaughey, the evil Walter o’Dim aka the “Man in Black”, says sincerely and diabolically in Sony’s remarkably inept and impenetrable adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” book series. It’s a throwaway line, both hilariously stupid and perhaps even intentionally funny, that surprisingly receives some genuine laughs. But other than some rather very arbitrary and asinine jokes about the species of animal the characters are eating, and some tonally odd gags, “The Dark Tower” is as dumb as any tasteless fowl. And somehow, I don’t think Stephen King would appreciate a ‘Dark Tower’ take away centering on poultry or the lack of it in some far off parallel universe. Then again, after this egregious misfire, the author might just hide away from social media for some weeks in associative humiliation. The ridiculously constructed movie is that embarrassing.

In this extremely convoluted and nonsensical affair — brought to you by the makers of “The Da Vinci Code” series (Ron Howard and Brian Grazer) and the Joel Schumacher-helmed, reviled mid-’90s Batman movies (Akiva Goldsman) — archetypes of good and evil are stupefyingly basic. Perhaps there is some depth to the artless story in the King novels, but in the utterly shallow and empty movie adaptation, the narrative sounds like it was drawn by a grade schooler.

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In its simplest form, though the story and storytelling are a tortuous mess, there is an eponymous skyscraper that protects the universe from evil forces. Inside this cosmos— a mish mash of perhaps every fantasy genre known to man — lives an evil sorcerer (The Man In Black who employs “magicks”) who wants to let the wickedness in, a reluctant hero gunslinger who  has given up on defending the world (Idris Elba’s Roland Deschain), and a nightmare-plagued teenage boy (Tom Taylor) whose powerful telekinetic mind could save or destroy all of the dimensions within this layered alternate reality.

There’s also goblin dogs that wear human skin, looking for little children on Earth who could potentially blow up the tower (not joking), seers with psychic powers, and portal upon portal that can transport you to many distant planes of reality, ranging from New York (where half the movie takes place) to the Mid-World to the Old West-style multiverse that Roland inhabits. If you’re confused, you should be. “The Dark Tower” is dysfunctional and doesn’t make a lick of sense.

The Dark Tower Idris Elba

Cheaply assembled by five writers (chief among them, the aforementioned and constantly-failing-upwards Goldsman), “The Dark Tower” borrows liberally from sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural and Western genres (among others), but rather than mix them with the inventive ingenuity of Stephen King, this disarray of a would-be franchise-starter, just wildly begs, borrows and steals in the hopes of creating something with a semblance of originality. Sadly, “The Dark Tower” is a tepid non-starter from minute one.

“The Dark Tower” should come equipped with a glossary of terms, powers, creatures, and worlds; it’s full of so much mumbo jumbo, the screenwriters clearly got lost in the novels’ idiolects and abstruse mythology. There’s Keystone Earth (Earth), Mid World (Roland’s world), there are some ritualized and absurd phrases of gunslinger code (“he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father”) and references to the High and Low speech that litters the novels and will further baffle audiences. Goldsman and his team seem to have haphazardly ripped through the novels, freely grasping at expressions and lexes in hopes of lending some credibility to their world building. But much like McConaughey’s hammy performance as the arch nemesis, it’s all bewildering.

The Dark TowerThere are some joys. McConaughey is so awful and campy, he’s a little bit delicious as the heinous heel. Elba’s deadpan delivery of jokes provides a few laughs to what otherwise is a tonally flat disaster. Beyond those moments are fleeting. The characters are otherwise one-note, and monotonous. Motivations are either laughable or pointless. Not even the weakest excuse is given about why o’Dim wants to let the universe implode and the revenge flashbacks that spurn on Roland (the death of his father) are laughably fashioned. Forget emotion or allegorical resonance too, that’s asking far too much.

While Stephen King has readily stated his “The Dark Tower: books were influenced by Sergio Leone westerns, J.R.R Tolkien‘s work, the myths of King Arthur, and other fantasy touchstones, the movie foolishly rips itself from either the wrong sources or the inferior knock offs. “The Dark Tower” feels like it’s equal parts SyFy channel dreck, “Eragon” LOTR-lite, “Mortal Instruments” fromage or the lamest post-apocalyptic/Clint Eastwood western hybrid discount bin offering you can imagine (“The Book Of Eli”).

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Crafted with blockbuster indistinctness by Nikolaj Arcel, the Danish filmmaker who wrote the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” film and helmed the period drama “A Royal Affair,” the director feels more like a gun for hire than anything resembling a visionary with a distinct take on the material. In fact, Ron Howard’s presence is felt throughout (he was originally slated to direct, but stayed on as a producer); this could conceivably have been one of his more ill-conceived, soulless efforts a la “Angels & Demons” (which Goldsman wrote too). There’s shared DNA in the preposterousness of it all.

At a scant 95 minutes, “The Dark Tower” is at least mercifully brief, but the choppy editing suggests an entire mid-section excised from the film in order to make the incoherent effort appear intelligible. For all its fantastical elements, no alchemy exists inside the dumpy walls of “The Dark Tower,” not between its actors, its characters and especially not in any of the unremarkable VFX or the standard-issue, wannabe kinetic action.

Idris Elba The Dark TowerStructurally, “The Dark Tower” never really stands erect. Clichéd up the hilt, creatively uninspired and flaccid in its shape, for a movie about portals and strange, fantastical realms, this is a curiously unimaginative sphere with zero dimension. And as for those domestic farm animals not available to sorcerer’s who lay it on thick, you could say Chicken Little has spoken: the sky has fallen on that proposed sequel and this is no mistaken belief. [D]