Arts

The Book Of Henry is peculiarly watchable for utter codswallop

Jacob Tremblay, Jaeden Lieberher and Naomi Watts in The Book of Henry
Damon Smith

DIRECTOR Colin Trevorrow's eagerly anticipated follow-up to rampaging dino-blockbuster Jurassic World is a different lumbering beast.

Clumsily concocted from equal parts rites-of-passage drama, terminal illness weepie and revenge thriller, The Book Of Henry is that car accident on the other side of the motorway that irresistibly draws eyes that should be concentrating on the road ahead.

If the slang term "hot mess" hadn't been coined, it would be freshly minted and polished for Trevorrow's film about a precocious savant, who conceives the perfect murder of an abusive neighbour, then asks his mother and younger brother to carry out the plan when a brain tumour renders him incapable.

A deeply moving first half sketches family dynamics with flecks of humour, underscored with scintillating performances from two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay, child star of Room.

Fourteen-year-old Jaeden Lieberher, who scene-stole the 2014 comedy St Vincent from Watts and Bill Murray, commits a similar act of thievery here in the demanding title role.

Screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz quickly exhausts our cache of goodwill by demanding gargantuan suspensions of disbelief in the second half as Watts's suburban mother hen, who only clucks when her wunderkind tells her to, metamorphoses into an avenging assassin with a sniper's rifle.

She carries out her boy's plan by following a tape recording that Henry prepared in advance, which includes pauses for her spontaneous interjections and his own pithy retorts, which spookily predict her every word and movement.

Truly, he's a genius and we are fools.

Susan Carpenter (Watts) relies on her gifted 11-year-old son Henry (Lieberher) to manage the household finances and protect his weakling brother Peter (Tremblay), while she earns a meagre wage as a diner waitress.

They live next door to police commissioner Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris), whose teenage step-daughter Christina (Maddie Ziegler) is the object of Henry's unspoken affection.

"My future daughter-in-law," teases Susan.

When Henry witnesses an unspeakable act in the Sickleman household, he berates the school principal Wilder (Tonya Pinkins) for her refusal to take drastic action.

"I will handle this without you!" rages the boy.

Henry employs his brilliant mind to plot Christina's salvation but his proposed methods set alarm bells ringing.

"Violence isn't the worst thing in the world," professes Henry.

"What is then?" asks Susan.

"Apathy," coldly replies her son.

The Book Of Henry is held together – just – by the lead trio, who anchor their characters to heartbreaking reality when screenwriter Hurwitz is feeding them a symphony of false emotional notes.

Sarah Silverman offers spunky comic relief as Watts' co-worker, who pokes merciless fun at Henry's mental acuity, while Lee Pace drifts in and out of focus as a dreamy neurosurgeon in charge of the boy's treatment.

Diagnosis: a peculiarly watchable case of crash, bang, codswallop.

THE BOOK OF HENRY (12A, 105 mins) Drama/Romance/Thriller. Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Maddie Ziegler, Lee Pace, Tonya Pinkins. Director: Colin Trevorrow

RATING: 4.5/10

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