FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2018 -- Eli Roth is best known for his work in the graphically gross horror genre. It began with the flesh eating virus in "Cabin Fever", then "Hotel", "Hostel Part II", "The Green Inferno" and "Knock, Knock". People get sliced and diced and digested. His break from the macabre was the underwhelming remake of "Death Wish" with Bruce Willis. Yikes!


Now he comes with his adaptation of John Bellairs' first kids mystery novel of the same name. It turns out there are eleven subsequent novels in the series about a boy warlock and his adventures. Your immediate thought is, that with Roth, the story is going to be a lot more graphic. But then you notice the PG rating and realize that it can't feature any of the gore for which Roth is famous.


Roth cast Owen Vaccaro ("Daddy's Home" and "Daddy's Home 2") as the boringly studious Lewis Barnavelt who is orphaned and sent to live with his uncle in New Zebedee, Michigan. He's never met his uncle Jonathan (played by Jack Black) and knows very little about him, but he quickly learns that his very eccentric uncle is a Warlock.

Jonathan's house is alive with hundreds of clocks, an animated chair, a painted that changes to different scenes regularly, and a variety of other gags that one might find in a warlocks home. Jonathan's next door neighbor is Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchet) who happens to be a very powerful witch who has lost her mojo.


Lewis is quickly drawn into the world of witchcraft by his uncle and neighbor and does a fairly decent job grasping the concept of spells and magic. However at his new school, he thinks he befriends a popular boy - Tarby (Sunny Sulljic) - who really has nothing to do with Lewis. But it is because of Sunny, that Lewis unleashes the evil of two witches who used to live in the house, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) and his wife Selena (Renee Elise Goldsberry).


Everything leads to the end of days and the only ones standing in the way are Lewis, Jonathan and Florence. It's fairly predictable even with Black's exuberant comedy gags and banter with Blanchett. Roth stylizes the sets much like Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" with an eye to the under 13 audience.


But while there is plenty of style and razzmatazz, the characters aren't fully fleshed out and shallow. The one hour forty five minute film would have benefited from an extra ten minutes to add some depth to the characters. The explanation as to how Isaac Izard turned to dark magic is empty as is the story behind Zimmerman and how she lost her mojo. Lewis' parents death is also skimmed over though the books flesh out the characters more completely.


This is Blacks second go at a magical role (see "Goosebumps") so he merely reprises his Stine personae from that 2015 film. Blanchett is Blanchett...always spot on. Vaccaro holds his own very well. It's just the script that is lacking.


"The House With A Clock in Its Walls" achieves its objective in that it provides good harmlessly spooky fun to young children. But those who read the book might be disappointed by the hollow characters.   -- GRADE C --   GEOFF BURTON