There's something wrong here, something very, very wrong; human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together kind of wrong.
Bill Murray isn't funny anymore.
Murray doesn't even try in City of Ember, although other actors going to seed would squeeze minor, mirthful malice from his role. It is one thing when Murray is purposely serious in Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers. It's entirely another when mockery is ripe for picking and Murray's too lazy to reach.
City of Ember is possibly the most depressing kiddie adventure ever; somber to a fault, with an allegorical political/religious subtext sailing over the heads of children suckered in by a PG rating.
Ember is an underground city created centuries earlier when the above-ground world ended. For reasons fairly unclear -- and anyone getting them will shrug -- the mayor (Murray) doesn't want Ember to literally pull itself out of a catastrophic hole.
Two dauntless children, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway), too-easily discover clues to Ember's survival and embark on a quest complete with a water flume ride, puzzle pieces and a roto-tiller roller coaster. Based on Jeanne Duprau's book, the story veers into murky parallels to current events, with Ember's salvation guided by a bible of instructions, and Murray's mayor insisting everything's fine or he'll appoint a commission to learn why it isn't.
Murray won't play along with the satire, looking bloated and bored, only slightly more interested that cameras are rolling than he was in Charlie's Angels.
Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.