This is a weird movie. But when you have Tim Burton (“Edward Scissorhands,” “Beetlejuice”) produce and direct a movie about peculiar children, that’s pretty much what you’re going for anyway. Unfortunately, as with his “Dark Shadows” (2012), it’s peculiar and dark, but not particularly exciting or entertaining.
Based on the wildly popular novel by Ransom Riggs, Eva Green (“Casino Royale”) stars as Miss Peregrine, kind of a spooky version of Mary Poppins. Green stated that Burton was one of the directors she dreamed of working with. She’s terrific, but there’s not enough for her character to do except glare and turn into a falcon at will.
Instead, the Jane Goldman script focuses primarily on teenager Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield). Butterfield was brilliant as a young teen in “Hugo” (2011) and still shows promise. Here he struggles to generate much star power or sufficient chemistry between himself and the other actors, especially his grandfather, Abe, played by Terrence Stamp.
In sunny Florida, Abe shares wild stories with his grandson, Jake. Even though Jake knows Gramps suffers from dementia, he can’t help but believe some of the fables. When Jake sees a monster kill his grandpa, the story seems too far-fetched for his parents, who feel it’s best for the boy to be examined by a psychologist, played by Allison Janney.
Finally, dear ol’ dad (Chris O’Dowd) takes the boy to a dreary island off the coast of Wales to disprove the supposed monsters and wild stories. Fortunately for Jake, Mr. Portman is not the most attentive father. Jake manages to wiggle away and find the magical place that Gramps described, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Each of the children has his or her unique super power, such as invisibility, flight, strength and literally projecting dreams. Other than their powers, the characters are not very amusing or outlandish. These lackluster kids seem fairly normal, maybe even boring, but are seemingly stuck in a 1943 time warp. It’s kind of an “X-Men” light.
The familiar theme of magical misfits is way overdone and much better elsewhere. In fairness, Burton puts his own stamp on it, but given this is the eleventh collaboration between him and costume designer Colleen Atwood, it feels all too familiar. Worse yet, these characters are either poorly developed, miscast or both. There’s nothing really wrong with their performances, but nothing special either.
As the mystery deepens, Jake discovers more questions than answers. He’s impressed with their powers to save the world, but with powerful enemies, maybe Miss Peregrine is actually saving these broken children from the world. They will soon face the evil Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) with his sharpened teeth, bulging eyes and Halloween fright wig. The Barron will also unleash a slew of eyeball-eating, tentacled monsters on the tots.
To build their defenses, Miss Avocet (Judi Dench) comes to the aid of her good friend, Miss Peregrine. Sadly, Dame Dench is subjected to this small inconsequential role that could have been played by anyone. Eventually, Jake discovers his own special “peculiarity.”
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is 127 minutes and rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and peril. The “home” actually exists in Antwerp, Belgium. Burton’s style is always quirky, but this one is style over substance. Apparently this story was changed so much from the book that fans hardly recognized the end product.
We’re not sure of the intended target demographic market. It’s too simplistic and tedious for adults, but might be a bit too creepy, freaky and disturbing for small fry. It’s visually gripping, but the hero just isn’t that heroic, and there’s not much chemistry in the love story. It’s not for lack of effort, however. In fact, it feels like Burton was trying too hard. Miss Peregrine has a unique gift of manipulating time, slowing these two hours to a grinding halt, very peculiar.