Brendan Fraser plays a “Silvertongue”—meaning he can bring a book’s characters to life simply by reading them aloud. Now he’s not only released the denizens of a book called Inkheart, but he’s also inadvertently banished his own wife into the book and must find a way to rescue her. Written by prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (from Cornelia Funke’s novel), the movie’s obvious inspiration is The Neverending Story, but even a fantasy needs its own rules; the rules for this one seem murky and arbitrary, and both the story and the story within the story fail to fire the imagination. Iain Softley directs with a too-heavy reliance on special effects, leaving his supporting cast (Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, Andy Serkis, etc.) stranded in unconvincing characters and uncompelling action.