Fourteen-year-old Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) has been raised by his uncle Ian (Ewan McGregor) since he lost his parents at a young age. Actually, since Ian, a globe-trotting investment banker, has never been around that much, it's fairer to say he's been raised by his uncle's pretty American housekeeper, Jack (Alicia Silverstone). Despite Ian's absences, it still comes as an enormous shock to Alex when he's killed in a car accident on his way back from a business conference. It comes as an even bigger shock when Ian's boss, Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy) reveals to Alex that his uncle wasn't a banker after all. He was a spy.
Ian Rider was killed while working undercover at a top-secret computer factory. American entrepreneur Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke) has developed a revolutionary new supercomputer, the Stormbreaker, which will finally make virtual reality a reality. He's about to ship thousands of models across the UK, including freebies for every school, but Blunt and his British Intelligence cronies smell a rat. Running out of time and options, they ask Alex to take over his uncle's mission, pose as the winner of a computer magazine competition and infiltrate Sayle's factory.
I've not read Stormbreaker or any of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider books, which are quite popular with kids. I can only assume they're a lot more fun on the page, since this movie adaptation is just one more noisy, mindless James Bond clone, with the sex and violence toned down for younger viewers. Children might enjoy watching a schoolboy play action hero but it's hard to believe anyone of Alex Rider's age or above will get much out of it.
The concept of a youthful 007 is not exactly a new one on film. In the last few years alone, we've seen that premise used by two Hollywood franchises - Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks. Stormbreaker brings nothing new to the party other than indecision over what approach to take. Scene by scene, the movie wavers between the dry humour of a Bond film, Spy Kids cartoonishness, the melodrama of the Mission: Impossibles and xXx-style overkill.
The actors add to the confusion: they seem to be appearing in different films. Bill Nighy (in the M role) and Stephen Fry (in the Q role) provide the film's Bond-like wit and they come off the best, though it's high time Nighy stopped doing that snorting thing.
The villains are straight out of Spy Kids. As the megalomaniacal Sayle, Mickey Rourke camps it up, dressed like the Penguin. He seems to be enjoying himself but, despite his efforts, Sayle becomes a complete laughing stock once we learn the motive behind his evil plan. His chief lackeys are non-starters. As Sayle's assistant Nadia Vole, Missi Pyle puts on a silly accent and wears out her welcome very quickly. The scary-looking Mr Grin (Andy Serkis) is introduced and then more or less forgotten about.
Other characters are played completely straight, like Ewan McGregor's secret agent, Sophie Okonedo's concerned intelligence officer and Damien Lewis's East European assassin. Poor Alicia Silverstone looks bewildered, as if she's as puzzled about her role as everyone else. Just how did a scatty, American babe only fifteen years older than Alex come to be the boy's guardian?
Alex Rider himself is taken seriously, or at least I think he's supposed to be. Alex Pettyfer is so ineffective, it's hard to tell. With his boy band looks and public school accent, he lacks both the weight to make the dramatic scenes work and the sense of humour necessary to pull off the lighter moments.
Director Geoffrey Sax, who did a passable job on last year's horror film White Noise, proves a very poor director of action. He's very much in the Michael Bay / McG mould, cut-cut-cutting the action scenes to death, never holding a shot for more than one second, making the big set-pieces more gruelling than thrilling. They're not very original in the first place - fights, car chases, skydiving, characters hanging from tall buildings. There is a nice bit involving Sayle's beloved pet, a Portuguese Man O' War jellyfish. That I haven't seen before but it's the only thing in Stormbreaker I haven’t seen.
Last updated: 24/06/2018 05:31:57