12A – 105mins – 2017
QUALITY NOT GUARANTEED
After his 2014 indie sleeper hit won him critical acclaim, debuting director Colin Trevorrow was catapulted direct to the major league by being granted the keys to Steven Spielberg’s resurrected dino-franchise. Jurassic World proved such a monster smash (becoming the fourth highest grossing film OF ALL TIME) that Lucasfilm trusted him to close out their Star Wars sequel trilogy.
It’s a monumental rise in such a short space of time for Mr Trevorrow. But before cameras have even begun to roll on Episode IX, his long-time passion project The Book of Henry has received a belated cinema release, having been originally scheduled to roll-out in September last year. Naturally, anticipation was high for this ‘little’ project – and, boy, what a disastrous change of fortune this unimaginably dire misstep is!
After Transformers: The Last Knight (which I reviewed HERE), I honestly didn’t think I’d see a film as infuriatingly poor at the cinema this year. As it transpires, Michael Bay’s robot ruckus only had to wait 48 hours to be usurped of its dishonour as the shittiest film of 2017. From a script first penned in 1998 by crime and comic book author Gregg Hurwitz, it boggles my brain that in the intervening two decades nobody pointed out how irredeemably flawed The Book of Henry was!
My mind is so bamboozled with holes to pick that it’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll start with an overview of the plot: 11year-old Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Midnight Special Lieberher) is a boy genius who has no one specialised subject, but instead knows EVERYTHING, including how to play the stock market and run a household for his loving-but-useless single mum, Susan (Naomi Diana Watts), and little brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay).
Suspecting his gruff next-door neighbour, Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris), of abusing his glum step-daughter, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), without a shred of proof beyond seeing her play with nightlights in her bedroom (seriously), Henry concocts an absurdly elaborate plan to MURDER Mr. Sickleman (yep, ‘cos he’s a SICK MAN, geddit?!) because he is the police commissioner and thus reporting him will fall on deaf ears because he has the local law wrapped around his little finger.
When Henry suddenly falls terminally ill after a couple of minor headaches, with his dying wish he entrusts the completion of his hitman mission to his grieving ma (who previously couldn’t manage her own accounts without relying on her pre-teen son). Rather than dismiss his plan as the deranged ravings of a cranially-unwell, drug-dosed, post-operation kid, Susan goes along with it, orchestrating his pin-point accurate methodology using Henry’s titular notebook – and a pre-emptively perfect voice recording Henry somehow had time to record from his constantly-monitored hospital bed, before “sneaking out” one night to run home and hide the tape in his mum’s safe!!!
Morphing into four disparate genres over the course of its hour-and-three-quarter duration (quirky comedy-drama, domestic tragedy, fevered murder plot and absurdist sniper action-thriller with a 13 Reasons Why-esque guardian angel narration), The Book of Henry is a tonally-awkward mess which has you stifling guffaws at its incredulity, when you should be reaching for tissues. It doesn’t help proceedings that the two main characters are horrible: Henry is an insufferable smart alec who has little respect for authority or his superiors (even rudely cutting off the doctor delivering his diagnosis), while his gamer mum is immature and unreliable to a dangerous degree.
Confounding all these issues (‘cos I’m not finished yet!) are a raft of implausibility’s, convenient contrivances and plot-holes which litter this heavy-handed script. The one time Henry is able to sneak undetected into a gun shop is the exact same moment a guy without a licence is able to obtain a weapon, allowing Henry to detail to his mum how to hoodwink one in the same way. While Henry mentions in his beyond-the-grave audiobook that he has bought a getaway car. WHO allowed an 11year-old to purchase a car?! HOW did the car get to the drop-off point? WHY was it even needed when the shooting-spot was in Henry’s treehouse in the middle of the woods?!
Hurwitz seems to enjoy nothing more than over-egging character-building in-jokes until the character is wholly defined by said quirky bantz. In moderation they are a wonderful way to unsubtly world-build without clunky exposition; when repeated for the gazillionth time they are eye-rollingly unfunny. And don’t even get me started on the plot-unravelling reveal that Henry has left the hospital unnoticed to run across town and recorded HOURS of audio, when the second he next gets out of his hospital bed an ALARM sounds which instantly wakes Susan, who is by his side THROUGHOUT.
I am angry. VERY angry. It defies sense that none of the hundreds of talented producers, cast and filmmakers who read, greenlit and signed on to bring The Book of Henry to life didn’t question any of these major issues over the course of the last twenty years. Were they blinded by the Safety Not Guaranteed/JW factor? This film’s SOLE redeeming quality which elevates it beyond a negative score is that it granted Thom 80s Picture House Downie and I the most HILARIOUS return walk from the cinema in many a year, ripping this travesty to absolute shreds. I would never recommend you watch it, but at the same time The Book of Henry has to be seen to be believed!
CR@B’s Claw Score: