By Gregg Shapiro
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures
Opening in theaters mere days after Disney won its umpteenth Best Animated Feature Oscar (for “Coco”), Ava DuVernay’s catastrophically boring, abysmal and embarrassing film adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s beloved Y/A novel “A Wrinkle in Time” (Disney) is not the studio’s first attempt at bringing the story to the screen. A mostly-ignored version came and went in 2003. Perhaps someone should have taken that as a sign that L’Engle’s tale of good triumphing over evil might not be meant for a cinematic interpretation. Instead, “A Wrinkle in Time” joins such costly Disney duds as “John Carter”, “Tomorrowland”, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “The Lone Ranger” as one of the worst live-action movies ever released by the studio. At least it’s not a musical (see “Newsies”, or better yet, don’t).
Among the generous liberties taken by screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, NASA scientist parents Mr. and Mrs. Murry (Chris Pine and Gugu Mbataha-Raw, respectively) have two children (not four as in the book); daughter Meg (Storm Reid) and adopted son Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Meg is very close to her father and shares her parents’ love of science. Her kid brother Charles Wallace, on the other hand, is so creepy he practically defies description.
After a particularly embarrassing presentation at NASA where Mr. Murry (not Dr. Murry, for some reason) is ridiculed for his tesseract concept, which involves traveling through space via your mind, not an over-priced rocket ship, he disappears. It turns out, he can actually tesseract (and overact, too)!
Papa Murry’s absence is felt particularly strongly by Meg who goes from being a star pupil at school to the bottom of the heap. She’s unpopular and bullied, leading to aggressive behavior. But that doesn’t stop cute classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) from attempting to interact with Meg.
However, things are about to change in unexpected ways. Via Charles Wallace, who possesses psychic abilities, the siblings are visited by three spectacular beings – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) – who promise to reunite them with their father. The bizarre trio of Mrs. are the most annoying trinity since the Sanderson sisters in “Hocus Pocus”. In her initial appearance in the Murry’s backyard, Mrs. Which is presented as a giant, leaving some of us waiting for her to ask “Does this planet make my ass look big?”
Through a combination of tacky and laughable special effects, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin are first transported to the planet Uriel, where they meet guru Happy Medium (Zach Galifinakis providing some desperately needed comic relief) and then to the frightening sphere known as Camazotz where the evil IT rules everything and everyone. Camazotz is where Mr. Murry is being held and where IT briefly takes control of Charles Wallace.
As the millions who have read the book since it was published are aware, there is a reunion and a hard -won happy ending. Good triumphing over evil is one of the timeless (and not especially original messages) sewn into the shiny fabric of DuVernay’s film. That would have more meaning and impact if “A Wrinkle in Time” was a better movie. But it’s not. It’s terrible. Winfrey, Witherspoon and Kaling look like they are flailing, desperate for direction. Not even a new Sade song (“Flower of the Universe”) or Chris Pine can smooth out the mess that is “A Wrinkle in Time”. It’s not too early for Winfrey and DuVernay to start writing their Razzie Award acceptance speeches. Rating: F