Brendan Fraser (second from left) and friends are all booked up in Inkheart.
INKHEART (Iain Softley). 106 minutes. Opens Friday (January 23). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
It's refreshing to find a fantasy adventure that relies on a well-crafted story and characters rather than the stereotyped quest for the Mystic Toaster Oven structure and overblown CG effects that plague the genre.
Preteen Meggie (Eliza Bennett) pines for her mysteriously missing mother, while Dad (Brendan Fraser) hunts obsessively through antiquarian bookshops all over Europe. Then the baddies show up, released from a novel by Dad's uncontrolled magic power and intent on enslaving him. From then on, it's a matter of capture and escape, which gets slightly repetitive in the final third.
Fraser and Bennett are acceptable but bland compared to the high-energy comedy of Helen Mirren as Meggie's sourpuss great-aunt and Andy Serkis as the happily vile head villain.
Iain Softley supports his cast with eye-catching sets and handsome Italian landscapes and does a good job with the two big effects scenes, one of them an homage to The Wizard Of Oz.
Literary references abound, all geared to kids around 10. The pro-literacy and girl power messages nest comfortably in the story and never turn preachy.