Puzzling throughout, at once exploitative and tender, The Lovely Bones (2009) is one huge enigma of a movie. For Peter Jackson, it marks a formidable attempt of reclaiming the territory he once started to explore – namely, the murderous twists and turns of hyper-active, hyper-sensitive minds that made for the folly and the mess of Heavenly Creatures (1994). In The Lovely Bones, tables are being seemingly turned, since this time we follow the victim’s perspective. But this proves alarmingly irrelevant: Jackson makes his movie so convoluted and spastic, that it seems much more a product of the villain’s mind than an object of cool, otherworldly recollection of the girl he murdered.
The imagery of the CGI-heaven that The Lovely Bones largely relies on has been much-ridiculed elsewhere, and it indeed plays like a mid-1990s TV ad; one that would pass as “amazing” back then, but that seems sloppy by today’s Lord of the Rings-set standards. But it’s not the mishandled CGI-brush that’s Lovely Bones’ biggest problem. In the pursuit of rendering his villain’s presence ominous and creepy (a feat accomplished only too well), Jackson drained the opposite pole of the movie’s universe – namely, the little girl’s family – of all interest. Rachel Weisz is game to play anything, but lack of direction is painfully on display in her performance. Mark Wahlberg is doing a new shtick, all right – mumbling his lines with eyes gone loose in different directions – but he barely does anything else. The same goes for Michael Imperioli, who seems at a complete loss and radiates the desperate will of escaping his Sopranos image. Again, no firm direction going on.
This is a second recent movie, after David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), that takes a conscious look at the 1970s and a makes a psychopathic killer a center of its focus. Unlike Zodiac, The Lovely Bones is set on ultimately comforting the viewer, but at the same time the relish Jackson takes in disquieting his audience is so evident, that it makes the film feel disjointed. Who’d have thought that it will be bad taste, of all things, that will bury Peter Jackson latest effort…?