The Dark Tower
No one, not even Idris Elba or Matthew McConaughey, wins in the adaptation of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower." Credit: Ilze Kitshoff

‘The Dark Tower’
Director:
Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

If there was ever a reason to feel bad for Stephen King — a prolific word-machine desperately in need of an editor; a filthy rich master of horror who in any other age would have been a gutter pulp novelist earning no more than whiskey money per book; a scaremonger whose ideas are better served when they’re adapted by filmmakers who partly ignore his texts (see: Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”) — it’s “The Dark Tower.”

 

King has inspired plenty of terrible movies before; we guesstimate the number at around 40 to 50. But “The Dark Tower” has to sting. The source is his passion project, his weirdo just-for-me lark. Begun in 1979, it’s a sci-fi/fantasy/horror/Western opus that, over eight novels and counting, presently runs a mere 35 words longer than Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” And after 10 years of development hell, King's baby has become a cut-rate failed franchise-starter, filled with unfinished-looking effects, murky lighting to disguise ugly sets and the world’s very first glimpse of what Matthew McConaughey looks like when he's bored.

 

To add insult to injury, it’s not even a straight "Dark Tower" take. It’s “based on” the entire series — part free adaptation, part fan-fiction, part salvage job. After all, it “only” cost $60 million — chump change in our blockbuster age. The set-up is roughly the same: The place is the post-apocalyptic alternate dimension called Mid-World. There’s a “gunslinger” named Roland — a trenchcoated Man With No Name, only he actually does have a name and it’s Roland (Idris Elba). He’s out to stop McConaughey’s Marten, aka the Man in Black, a sorcerer who wants to destroy the world by destroying a powerful tower that’s actually a border, keeping demons from pouring into the multiverse, including our own. (The movie, at least, is too stupid to be read as a Breitbart wet dream.)

 

Into the fray comes Jake (Tom Taylor), a brooding 11-year-old from "Keystone Earth" (that's us!) who’s been plagued with vivid and disturbing visions since his dad died in a fire. These visions are of Mid-World, which he finds himself entering, meeting all the heroes and villains of his dreams. It’s like “Last Action Hero”! Only it winds up more like “Masters of the Universe,” the notorious big movie of “He-Man” made by the cheapskates at Golan-Globus. They didn’t want to pony up for too much action in mystical Eternia, so they had the heroes venture to modern-day Earth and hang in suburban hell. Sorry, kids.

 

And sorry, fans of “The Dark Tower.” The movie does wait a while before Jake drags Roland into 21st century NYC (which, to be fair, isn’t a cheap place to film, and it does appear they shot mostly on location). At this point a grim and humorless affair suddenly turns into a fish-out-of-water comedy — before getting to its re-shot climax, which nicks a bit from "Wanted" and almost destroys Manhattan onscreen again, but doesn't, but only because it doesn't have the money. It even throws in a joke about America’s lax gun control. Then again, it doesn’t give us a healthcare gag when a wounded Roland saunters into a hospital and gets treatment without insurance.

 

Elba digs into the chance to do some Chris Hemsworth-in-“Thor” yuks, but he mostly falls back on grunting and grumbling, as though miffed that his character was saddled with too much hopelessly vague business about a haunted past to let him have any fun. Everyone seems pissed. McConaughey looks like he was conned into signing up for a much more lavish, freewheeling production, quickly noticed all the cut corners then started muttering his dopey lines like a petulant kid who just found out his parents won’t buy him that Transformer he wanted. Still, who can blame him? We feel the same way about “The Dark Tower,” and we’ve never read a single page.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge