By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Twisting a familiar bedtime story like a beanstalk, Jack the Giant Slayer possesses the same sedating qualities. That might be a compliment if Bryan Singer's version were a picture book but it's a movie, and a dingy 3-D movie at that — Clash of the Titans dingy without much of the action that at least made that misbegotten myth bearable.
Singer (Superman Returns) doesn't know what he wants to make of Jack and his beanstalk fairy tale. The movie isn't rambunctious enough to occupy children for two hours, nor violent enough to earn the "slayer" part of its video game-era title change. It's somewhere in the middle, in a muddle of tame Game of Thrones intrigue, Renaissance fair costuming and uninspired CGI.
Paraphrasing the giant: Fee fi ho hum.
Actually there's an army of giants here, some more squatty or squinty than others but still interchangeable unless they have a second head growing out of a shoulder like their general Fallon (voice of Bill Nighy). Fallon does smell the blood of an Englishman but nobody's bones are ground to make anyone's bread. Instead, the Englishman, a bland knight named Elmont (Ewan McGregor) gets rolled into a tortilla of sorts, next to real pigs in dough blankets. That's the extent of the movie's humor.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a dreamy teen in a medieval hoodie whose plague-dead dad used to read him bedtime tales of giants and slayers. Jack never imagined he'd be a slayer himself, and technically he isn't. Unless you count dropping a bee hive into a giant's helmet, causing painful, blinding stings that send the beast over a cliff. Umm, slayer? More like Jack the giant punker.
He's matched in giant-slaying inexperience by princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) whose father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) can't keep this damsel out of distress. That's why Elmont's on the case, after Isabelle is captured by gargantuans in dire need of baths and a good moisturizer. There's a fleeting hint of a romantic triangle with Jack but like everything else in the script, it's disposable.
Ah, but the search for Isabelle up a sky-tall beanstalk — growing not from magic beans but "holy relics" according to the monk ripping off Jack — is an excuse for palace skullduggery. The king's right-hand worm Roderick (Stanley Tucci) seeks possession of a magic crown to make himself master of the giants, so he can conquer kingdoms. Tucci understands the screenplay hollowness, giving himself the hammy death scene he once spoofed in The Imposters.
Otherwise, there is no joy whatsoever in Singer's fantasy, no Princess Bride farce or Kraken-sized action in its behemoth scrums. Jack the Giant Slayer is merely cable TV fodder waiting to happen and not worth a hill of beans, magic or otherwise.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.