Good Stephen King adaptations are rare. Every so often there’s a “Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me” or “Misery.” For the most part, we end up with schlock like “Pet Semetary,” “Dreamcatcher” or “Under the Dome.” I’m fine with schlock; it can be a lot of fun. I’ve managed to have a good time in the most pedestrian of King adaptations—like “Silver Bullet,” “Cujo,” “1408,” “Thinner,” “Firestarter,” “Needful Things,” “The Mist,” and “Secret Window.” Though not perfect, for the most part, they end up perfectly serviceable (or at least amusing schlock).
“The Dark Tower” is something else entirely. It fails on so many fundamental levels, it barely feels like a movie. It’s more like a terribly assembled melange of bad scenes and malformed ideas, cut together to fulfill the legal definition of a “feature film.” I can’t recall a film so bereft of basic entertainment. I haven’t read any of “The Dark Tower” novels, but the mythology presented in the movie hinted at something far more entertaining than the absolute debacle I witnessed.
The film feels like a strange hybrid of 1980’s kids fantasy “The Neverending Story” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s massive misfire “Last Action Hero.” It centers on a troubled young boy having a hard time dealing with his father’s death. He’s been dreaming of a faraway world filled with strange creatures, powerful sorcerers and brave gunslingers who dispense justice like Knights of the Round Table. This world has been ravaged by The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), an evil sorcerer searching for a weapon of destruction to destroy the dark tower; a giant obelisk that protects a number of worlds. The only thing capable of taking the tower down is “the shine,” which is found in the minds of certain children.
Sounds interesting, right? It’s not.
“The Dark Tower” is a joyless slog through Terrible Town with pit stops at Awful Alley and a rest station called “Pain Plaza.” Everything about “The Dark Tower” feels low rent. The fantasy world our young hero travels to looks like any random acre found in the American southwest. Citizens who populate the world look like a bunch of shabby trailer-park residents with penchants for strange facial hair. They all dress in a color scheme inspired by J. Crew’s brown and beige collection. It’s not so much a fantasy world as a trip to Arizona in the mid 1990s.
I wouldn’t call the acting “terrible” because it doesn’t feel like a strong enough word to describe what is happening here. The fact I was bored by the super-intense Idris Elba and scenery-chewing machine that is Matthew McConaughey is a testament to the incompetence of the production. Everything about “The Dark Tower” feels uninspired and drab. The colors, costumes, dialogue, scenery, shot selection, locations—even the magical powers are standardized special effects with no attempts at creating anything new or interesting.
I spent the first half of the movie fighting off the urge to nap. During the second half, I kept my mind occupied by scanning the background of scenes for overacting extras and questionable set-dressing. The stories I was making up in my head for background actors were far more interesting than anything happening in the film. There was one supporting actor I named “Barry.” He looked like he had been plucked from a Gap dressing room and placed in scenes with McConaughey to play a sniveling helper monkey who shouts out expositional gems when the plot needs forwarding. I gave Barry a back story, too:
He was a failed actor who spent the last 10 years flubbing auditions while hopping from one restaurant gig to the next. After developing an epic heroin habit, he ended up in debt to an Armenian gangster. With only hours left before his execution, a casting agent called and told him he had finally landed his dream role: playing Matthew McConaughey’s sniveling sidekick in the worst movie of 2017. He was able to pay back his heroin debt, but seeing the finished film drove him to take his own life.
There was more drama in those last four sentences than anything in “The Dark Tower.” It’s an absolute failure on every level.