In this current era of blockbuster cinema, nothing ever dies. Everything gets rebooted or reimagined. Any show or franchise, it seems, can be resuscitated at a moment’s notice. “Veronica Mars,” a TV show with abysmal ratings, managed to get a feature film and another season a decade after its cancellation. “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that was rebooted successfully in the early 2000s, will be redone by Sam Esmail (“Mr. Robot,” “Homecoming”). As I type this, news has hit about a new version of “Saved by the Bell,” featuring everyone’s favorite troublemaker, Zack Morris, as the governor of California. How scary is that?
The answer: scarier than anything you’re going to see in “It Chapter Two.”
The second and significantly inferior installment, “It Chapter Two” attempts to adapt Stephen King’s goofy-as-hell book about clowns, aliens, horny teenagers and giant space turtles. The first installment was an extremely entertaining movie that felt more like “The Goonies” than a terrifying ghost story. In my review of the 2017 film, I remarked, despite its weirdness, there wasn’t a single moment of real fear or dread. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) runs the gamut between “creepy” and “goofy” but ultimately comes across more like a comedic device than a nightmare-inducing horror icon.
The sequel is just as inert when it comes to the scares but lacks the charm of its predecessor. We catch up with the “Losers Club” 27 years later. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has hung around the backwater shithole of Derry, Maine, to make sure the evil murdering presence is gone for good.
Spoiler alert: It isn’t.
Pennywise is back and he’s hungry as hell for the hearts and souls of anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. Mike reaches out to the other members of the Losers Club and invites them back so they can keep the promise they made as children to finally escort this man-eating carnival sideshow back to hell.
Billy (James McAvoy) is a successful writer constantly criticized for botching the ending of his books (the irony!). Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is now a porcelain-skinned goddess unable to effectively express emotions, and is trapped in the kind of abusive relationship that only exists in soap operas and Lifetime movies. Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comic dealing with some skeletons in his closet. Eddie (James Ransone) is neurotic and dealing with overbearing women. Ben (Jay Ryan) is no longer the fat kid; he’s a super-hot adult with smoldering eyes and a goatee that says, “Yes ma’am, I do have a wild side.”
The reunited friends are pretty sketched out by the idea of trying to kill Pennywise. There’s a lot of time spent early on getting the characters together so they can argue about how none of them want to be there. After they get on the same page, they begin to engineer a plan to kill Pennywise once and for all. For some reason, it involves splitting up to find “tokens” from their youth so they can each have their own creepy encounter with Pennywise; thus padding the runtime to an unforgivable length.
There are filmmakers I respect enough to spend three hours of my time in theaters. Tarantino springs to mind. Christopher Nolan does as well. Yet, Andy Muschietti doesn’t have the credentials to earn such respect. He had two movies to tell this story and still needs almost three hours to attempt to stick the landing.
Readers, he doesn’t.
“Chapter Two” is a long, silly piece of poorly staged melodrama posing as a scary movie. The film is saved from being completely awful thanks to a talented cast. Bill Hader is so damn likable; he hoards much of the charisma that seems to elude big-screen veterans McAvoy and Chastain.
I didn’t hate “It Chapter Two,” but I didn’t find anything to love. It’s a dull return to Derry that, like the popular Netflix show “Stranger Things,” has a likable enough cast to make viewers forgive all its glaring flaws. The film feels strangely detached from its superior predecessor.
I would liken the first chapter to the “Lord of the Rings” movies: It’s well put together, has good character development and is charming. The second is like those painful Hobbit movies. They’re pointlessly drawn-out and quick to wear out their welcome.