It’s easy to imagine that if a person went from living on welfare to being a multi-millionaire in a mere five years, all because of some books she wrote, that she would want to keep on writing. But I’d also like to think if those books were as intricate and imaginative as the Harry Potter series that she could come up with something better than her screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Instead, J.K. Rowling gives us a rather uninspired story that ends up feeling like little more than a cash grab (though not for Rowling, obviously)─especially when you discover that Warner Bros. is planning on making five of these Fantastic Beasts movies, all of which are springing forth from a simple 128-page “textbook” Rowling created, full of drawings, doodles, and notes on dozens of mythical animal species.

Here’s the Beasts plot: Man arrives in 1926 New York with a suitcase full of creatures. Some escape. He rounds them up.

Fairly simple and not terribly imaginative, right? Yes, there’s also a ridiculously convoluted subplot about an abusive witch and an invisible creature coincidentally wreaking havoc on New York at the exact same time the man is trying to catch his own creatures. There’s also something involving Colin Farrell, dressed up to look a little too similar to a grown-up Eddie Munster. Despite all the flash and (dare I say) 3D wizardry, though, it’s fairly impossible to kick the thought that Beasts is just outright boring.

Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, the guy with the un-secure suitcase, and Katherine Waterston is Tina, the Magical Congress desk clerk who helps him. While Redmayne mumbles and plods his way through the movie, Waterston may as well be sleepwalking; neither provides much in the way of emotion and even less in the way of inspired acting. It’s only when we get to the supporting cast that some signs of life emerge.

Alison Sudol’s Queenie is Tina’s mind-reading roommate, and she’s instantly struck by Cupid’s arrow upon meeting normal ol’ human Jacob, played by the always-great Dan Fogler. Jacob enters the picture after the all-too-predictable, accidental suitcase switch, which leaves Newt with no choice but to bring him along for the ride─unless, of course, he would just zap Jacob with an Obliviate spell to make him forget any of this ever happened…but no. All the better for us; Fogler and Sudol proceed to immediately steal the movie right out from under the leads (and the not-so-fantastic beasts).

Director David Yates, who piloted the fifth, sixth, and two-part seventh movies of the Harry Potter series does what he can with the material. Beasts, however, winds up feeling more like he’s just overcompensating for the lack of a plot by barraging audiences with every visual effect he can think of, including a stable full of cute (and not-so-cute) creatures whose likenesses will no doubt be lining toy store shelves just in time for the holidays. Coincidence?

By the time the unintentionally laugh-inducing “twist” arrives at the end, you’ll have already thought (nay, hoped) the movie had ended a few times over, to no avail. And to think, there’s still four more of these movies on the way. If only I could get in on one of those Obliviate spells.


2/5 stars

Worth the 3D glasses?

Sure, if only to give your brain something to do while the lifeless plot unspools in front of you. But even at that there’s such a thing as sensory overload, and Beasts provides it in spades.