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'Chronicle' Built on Clichéd Premise but Shows Promise

Max Landis goes with the hackneyed perspective of handheld camera, but still displays "wild cinematic imagination," says Dave.

Chronicle offers up yet another cinematic instance of on-screen characters using handheld cameras to advance a storyline. We saw it first in 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, and it continued with this winter’s The Devil Inside. When first unveiled, this technique was an original idea, but now, the dizzying effect of actors filming things is just another Hollywood cliché. Filmmakers, let’s ban the handheld cameras.

In this movie , three high school friends wander off into the woods from a party. They discover a sinkhole and contract telekinetic (the parapsyphological ability to move objects without touching them) powers by touching a rock/ice-like substance they find down there.

Telekinesis first appeared on film in 1968’s The Power, featuring Sir George Hamilton. Since then, the phenomenon has enjoyed a somewhat regular Hollywood spotlight, with movies like Scanners and Firestarter keeping filmgoers on high alert for flying toasters, marbles and farm animals.

Initially in Chronicle, the teens use their newfound powers for comedic effect, by causing havoc at a toy store and by using their abilities to impress women at parties. They also hijack a school talent show. Soon they’re flying up in the stratosphere, Superman meets Beavis and Butt-head.

But the dark side of telekinesis rears its ugly head soon enough, as a road rage incident (well-documented in the film’s trailer) leads the characters to learn a familiar morality lesson: With great power comes great responsibility.

From there, the film’s three characters (played believably here by relative unknowns Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and the aptly named given that he can fly Michael B. Jordan) spiral downward as a result of telekinetic powers, and the film ends in a floating standoff that features a mid-air man vs. commuter bus encounter and more instances of mass destruction and mayhem, punctuated literally by a statue’s javelin (which you’ll see coming immediately).

But the huge, young crowd was fully engaged in this one, warning the characters in foul-mouthed admonishment that potential trouble was afoot. At times I thought I was headed for the fo’c’sle of a tramp steamer, so profoundly profane was the audience-movie dialogue.

Max Landis, son of the great John Landis, who brought us The Blues Brothers, wrote this one, and it’s clear that young Max has a wild cinematic imagination. Let’s keep an eye on him.

Other observations at the moviehouse:

  • Ten minutes before showtime, more than 100 people, mostly teenagers, were in line to see Chronicle. The line wound through the stanchions by the food court and down the hall toward the exit. The crowd was all there to see Chronicle, and the theater was packed to a capacity of 250 people. This surpasses the crowds I witnessed this fall at Cinemark for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part I. And on the way out of the theater, another 100 were in line for the next showing. Because the 7:50 p.m. show costs $9, that’s a quick $2,250 earned at one viewing in Joliet (right outside !) alone. I think this could be a successful film!
  • I informed several faithful readers that I was going to see either Chimpanzee, Contagion or Conception this week, confused by the recent  influx of movies that begin with the letter C.

Quotable moments

I couldn’t watch this movie from my usual perch in the last row because of the crowd, so I couldn’t take the diligent notes I usually do on my mobile device (plus theater personnel were swarming about Friday night and I feared an ejection). As a result, I couldn’t take down any direct dialogue, and none of the quotes stuck with me.

Product placement protocol

Early on, the characters assemble an elaborate Lego structure without using their hands. And just like in the real-life drama played out in most American living rooms, one of the other kids immediately smashes up the creation — without touching it.

A Volkswagen Beetle is a vehicle of choice for one of the telekinetically gifted characters here later on, while a BMW falls prey to the parapsychological pranks of the teens too.

Preview profiling

Project X is now being touted as the best teenage party movie ever, surpassing even Superbad in that fine genre, according to previews. Meanwhile, because I’m sitting through Chronicle, Cinemark thinks I have no interest in the one-off, artier offerings like Gustavo Dudamel conducting Mahler or Yo-Yo Ma channeling his inner bluegrass. Both of these interesting musical previews had been in heavy rotation of late before other films I’ve seen, but not this week. I guess Cinemark thinks high school kids have no interest in anything remotely cultural. That’s a shame.

Flora Dora February 07, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Hey, Dave, your column helps me decide whether or not to see a film. Chronicles is not now on my list!
Nurslawzak February 08, 2012 at 07:26 AM
Dave, a solid review. I would like to add to your nods to prior telekinesis themed movies. There's was the early 80's financial box office disaster, yet somewhat funny, Modern Problems starring Chevy Chase and The Men Who Stare at Ghosts with George Clooney and Jeff Bridges that explores a fictional military unit (or is it?) that is trying to develop paranormal powers to have an advantage on the enemy. Oh, and who can forget the low budget comedy Zapped, starring the ultimate teen idol (at least in 1982) Scott Baio. Scott using mind control to unsnap a girl's bras gave all teenage boys hope that this power might exist in the not too distant future.
Dave Wilson February 08, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Haha Dorothy, glad I could help!

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