You gotta have heart
Some stale dialogue and a screenplay that goes nowhere and says nothing plague Hearts in Atlantis, director Scott Hicks’ (Shine) boring adaptation of a Stephen King story.
This is one of those movies that I didn’t think could lose. The King story on which it is based is critically acclaimed; Hicks is a capable director; the presence of Anthony Hopkins (with the exception of his penguin-like performance in Legends of the Fall) is a near guarantee for captivating work. Hopkins turns in a solid effort as a man gifted with psychic abilities, despite the fact that Goldman’s script and Hicks’ stiff direction never capitalize on the wonder a psychic man should provide.
The film’s story is told in flashback as Robert Garfield (David Morse) recounts events that took place in 1960, when a mysterious man named Ted (Hopkins) moved into an apartment within the house he shared with his mother (Hope Davis). The mother doesn’t trust the man from the beginning, but young Bobby (Anton Yelchin) strikes up a friendship. Ted gives the boy a job reading the newspaper to him every day for a dollar a week.
If the setup I just described seems rather uneventful to you, then I’ve done a good job capturing the spirit of this dull movie. Ted has psychic powers, but they are depicted in a muddled, confusing fashion. At one point, hugging Ted results in Bobby being able to read minds for a couple of days, beating a carnival guy at cards in one of the film’s better moments. For the most part, the chunks of the film that are supposed to be magical are far from it and don’t offer an explanation.
Also going nowhere is a strange subplot involving mysterious men hunting for Ted, wanting to use his powers for evil, or good, or whatever. The movie presents this stuff in shrouded terms that should be mysterious but end up being aggravating. As part of his buck-a-week job, Bobby is supposed to be on the lookout for these bad men, and none of it makes a lot of sense.
While Hopkins delivers an OK performance, Yelchin is saddled with some pathetic dialogue that actually makes him look like a bad actor. Especially terrible is one of the final speeches he delivers to his mom, where he declares his love for Ted and his aggravation with motherly interventions. The words the child has to deliver are stale and inappropriately laugh-inducing. It might be that the kid is not that talented, but it’s more likely that this was an occasion where the normally reliable Goldman simply didn’t do a decent job writing the child’s dialogue.
None of the relationships in this film feel real, from the childhood friendship of Bobby and his first love, Carol (Mika Boorem), to the strained goings-on between Bobby and his mom. The relationship that comes closest to working is the one between Bobby and Ted, but even that feels phony in many parts.
As I said, this is based on a Stephen King story, and hints of the movie Stand By Me (based on his story The Body) are apparent. Bobby and his friends partake in your typical rites of passage stuff, including showdowns with the town bullies (led by Timothy Reifsnyder, who is no Kiefer Sutherland). None of the kids in this movie have the charisma of somebody like River Phoenix, or even Corey Feldman, for that matter.
Hearts in Atlantis is one of those movies that just sits there, as you wait patiently for it to go somewhere. After about half its running time, when it’s apparent that major entertainment will not be delivered today, it becomes a real seat-squirmer—a surprise, and a significant letdown, considering some of the major talent involved.