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Monday, March 18,2013

From bullied geek to supernatural freak

'Chronicle' isn't your standard superhero movie, but it isn't very good, either

by James Sanford

When Madonna hired a documentary crew to follow her around for her 1991 film “Truth or Dare,” many observers thought she’d scaled new heights of narcissism (even her then-boyfriend Warren Beatty brayed, “She doesn’t want to live off-camera!”). As it turned out, the high priestess of pop had once again seen the future: Twenty years later, anyone with a camera, a Facebook page or a Twitter account can be the star of his or her own show — he or she may also be the only truly interested member of the audience as well.

In “Chronicle,” high-schooler Andrew (Dane DeHaan) studiously preserves most of his daily interactions on video, although his life is considerably less glamorous than Madonna’s, circa 1991. Andrew sounds as if he is permanently afflicted with post-nasal drip, and his primary talent seems to be serving as a peripatetic punching bag for crude classmates, thugs in the park and his drunk of a dad. Aside from Bellowing Papa (“Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ya!”), other recurring guest stars on “The Adventures of Andrew” include Wheezy Mom (“Can’t! …. Breathe!”) and Cool Cousin Matt, who woefully wails along with Jessie J.’s “Price Tag.” “Jersey Shore” it’s not.

What’s looking to be a loser of a show turns into “Whoa-oa-oa, duu-u-u-u-ude!” must-see-TV after Andrew, Matt (Alex Russell) and charismatic buddy Steven (Michael B. Jordan) plunge into a crater and encounter an apparently extraterrestrial force that endows them with telekinesis, the power to levitate and — bummer! — frequent nosebleeds, so they soon need plenty of tissues to go along with their assorted issues.

The “found footage” concept, considered groundbreaking back in the days of “The Blair Witch Project,” has long-since been driven into the ground by “Cloverfield,” the “Paranormal Activity” saga and other imitations. While “Chronicle” makes a valiant stab at re-energizing the gimmick, director Josh Trank’s film is only intermittently absorbing. Screenwriter Max Landis deserves credit for allowing the story to take on some unexpectedly disturbing shades — the guys definitely do not aspire to be superheroes — but the movie, like Andrew, is a bit off-balance and fumbling. A few intriguing ideas and marginally clever moments (such as a funny sequence in a toy store and an alarming bit involving the fate of a spider) aren’t enough to offset the film’s overreliance on sketchy stereotypes and slick digital effects.

“Chronicle” squanders its surprises early on, which means that even at 85 minutes the movie starts to feel drawn-out, especially in the final act when Landis attempts to turn what should have been a small-scale thriller into a “Transformers”-style smash-a-thon; about the best that can be said about the last 15 minutes of “Chronicle” is that Shia LaBeouf does not show up to gape and gasp at the chaos.

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