1.5 stars (out of 4)
It’s wretched, ugly, unseemly and serves no real purpose except to unleash torment on anyone that happens to catch a glimpse. Oh, you think I’m referring to Pennywise the Clown? The description also fits IT Chapter 2. Shudder.
Granted, most sequels are bloated money-grabs. But this one is a special kind of awful. Perhaps because it squanders all the shagginess from the 2017 original, which was a moody nostalgia piece with fleshed-out characters and unrelenting tension. Though IT only captured the first half of the 1986 Stephen King novel, it felt complete. In a perfect world, the adolescents in the spooky small town of Derry, Maine, would have grown up and dealt with their ordeal via old-fashioned off-screen therapy. Instead, the self-dubbed “Losers Club” put themselves back in harm’s way. They suffer for this mistake, as do we.
The trouble begins in Act 1, Scene 1, as we’re forced to watch a heinous and unnecessarily cruel present-day act of gay hate-crime violence that never ever ever should have seen the light of day. (I don’t care that the sequence is lifted from the book. It’s 2019, and this is not a hard-core indie drama such as Boys Don’t Cry.) The only narrative takeaway is that Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) has reappeared, his thirst for blood intact. Now the pals that made that pact 27 years ago to finish IT off for good must live up to the deal.
If only it were this easy. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only current Derry resident, meaning he must call all six of his former friends and explain the dire situation. He has all their cell numbers at the ready, even though we’re led to believe that everybody has been incommunicado with each other since 1989. Bill the stutterer (James McAvoy) is now a mildly successful screenwriter. Richie the jokester (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comic. Beverly the designated tomboy (Jessica Chastain) is stuck in an abusive marriage. The others don’t have enough screen-time to warrant a mention. In fact, Mike will essentially disappear from the proceedings as soon as he finishes his phone-tree.
Given that Pennywise is up to his old tricks — snatching an innocent small child, shifting his shape to resemble flesh-and-blood people, re-possessing the town bully — you’d think that the gang would be in a mad rush to get down to business and defang him. Nope! With a shockingly prolonged run time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, IT Chapter 2 takes its sweet time building up to that inevitable climax. We must see each character have his/her own encounter with Pennywise, which become increasingly predictable and decreasingly frightening. (Be wary of kindly old ladies! They’re not what you think!).
Director Andy Muschietti (IT, Mama) also squeezes in a winking sequence in which Bill buys back his old bike in an antiques store and immediately rides off. With air still in its tires after some 30 years, this must be the most magical bike since the one in E.T. (This is the stuff you ponder when you’re watching an overly long movie.) BTW: You may or may not recognize the store owner, depending on your familiarity with literary royalty.
Pennywise’s evils have a numbing effect. We know he’s capable of blood-curling murder and yet he lacks a truly scary boogieman appeal compared to, say, Michael Meyers in Halloween. You’ve seen one shape-shifting scam, you’ve seen them all. By the time the adults finally enter his stomping grounds, it’s a matter of when and how they will destroy him — not whether this evil force will get the best of them.
Too bad that he didn’t. The Losers Club members are interchangeable and forgettable as grown-ups, as the stars fail to act their way out of a shoddy screenplay. Sure, Hader provides a few morsels of comic relief, but he looks ill at ease doing the oh-my-gosh-help-me! thing in front of a green screen. Chastain has little to do other than speak in hushed tones and look agonized. What a waste of top-tier talent.
IT Chapter 2 will likely be a monster hit — after all, the original did gangbusters over the same September weekend two years ago. But this one never should have been brought to life. You’re better off refusing its reach and just tuning out.
IT Chapter 2 opens in theaters Friday, September 6.
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