'Slumberland' review: Narnia wannabe is a total snoozer
Courtesy of Netflix
For a movie about wonder, enchantment and the world of dreaming, the Francis Lawrence-directed “Slumberland” has exactly zero imagination. In fact, it’s a real snoozer. Based on Winsor McCay’s classic “Little Nemo in Slumberland” comic strip, “Slumberland” joins Netflix’s recent lofty and ambitious fantasy adaptation, “The School for Good and Evil” as a contender for worst movie of the year. Not for lack of trying, making fantasy movies targeted at youngsters isn’t easy, but one wonders how Lawrence, director of “I Am Legend,” “Constantine,” and “The Hunger Games,” stumbled upon this “Inception” for elementary schoolers. It might’ve worked had the script polished the films emotional core and perhaps given its lead star Jason Momoa something to do other than gallivanting between hideous green screen locales and flying gooses.
The film stars an amicable Marlow Barkley (also in this season’s other major streaming release “Spirited”) as Nemo, a bright 11-year-old who lives with her father (Kyle Chandler) in a lighthouse tasked with bringing stranded seaman home. Nemo’s head is filled with vivid wonder and stories her dad tells before bedtime, specifically that of his exploits with an outlaw pal named Flip. Naturally, after dad relays this heartwarming story, he perishes at sea forcing his estranged brother Philip (Chris O’Dowd), who sells door knobs for a living and doesn’t know anything about parenting, to look after her. To escape the doldrums of her daily life, including a persnickety prep school she could care less about attending, Nemo stumbles into Slumberland after discovering a map her father left behind.
It’s here where she meets the real Flip (Momoa), a 9-foot-tall creature who looks like a rejected outcast from C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.” Momoa, best known for brooding roles in “Aquaman” and “Game of Thrones,” feels completely miscast as the buoyant character whose personality is always cranked to hypercaffeinated levels. Low on wisdom and tasked with explaining the mechanics of how the convoluted world of Slumberland works, Flip is public enemy number one and the specialized “Dream Police” task force (headed by Weruche Opia) that govern Slumberland have been tracking him for 165 years.
Michael Handelman and David Guion’s screenplay has a few tricks up its sleeve and the dream-hopping sequences occasionally hint at how much richer the film could’ve been had it nourished the central relationships and delivered on the tepid emotional catharsis in the closing moments. Instead, “Slumberland” is regulated to cliches, undeveloped characters, subplots, and a laughable performance from Momoa who truly looks like he’s in a completely different movie (Howie Mandell in “Little Monsters” fared better than this). It’s a bummer, because the potential is prevalent throughout “Slumberland,” but Lawrence gets so caught up in the universe of his own making, he forgot the most important principle of any fantasy film aimed at youngsters: having fun.
SLUMBERLAND streams on Netflix Friday, November 18th.