Plot: Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) has just lost both of his parents, but he does have family left and he is taken to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). That means he has to adjust to a new home and a new school, hopefully new friends, all while trying to cope with the loss of his parents. Jonathan welcomes Lewis with open arms, though his house is on the odd side, to say the least. The place is colorful and filled with offbeat items, weird decor, and of course, plenty of secret places and hidden nooks, though only one room is off limits. What stands out at first is the abundance of clocks, which means a constant ticking is heard and at night, Lewis notices that Jonathan is often creeping around, as if looking for something. He also soon meets Florence (Cate Blanchett), Jonathan’s neighbor, rival, and best friend, who often trades barbs with his uncle, though all in good fun. As Lewis begins to settle in, he is drawn into not only problems at school, but some odd events at his new home, so as time passes and he delves into both worlds, what secrets will he uncover?
Entertainment Value: Based on a popular book, The House with a Clock in Its Walls aims to deliver some family friendly chills with a blend of Harry Potter, Goosebumps, and an outlandish performance from Jack Black. The narrative is fine and follows a common theme for this kind of material, with a young person in a new environment, an eclectic relative, bullies at school, and of course, a magical mystery that requires their unique skills to solve. So this is well worn ground, especially with the obvious influences at work, but the movie manages to create some whimsy and wonder, as well as fun visuals and a few laughs. In other words, the script is passable, but leans on the cast and special effects to shoulder the burden and I think stronger, more creative writing could have worked wonders here. Instead, we have a passable, sometimes fun movie that leaves your mind as soon as the credits roll. The pace is reasonable, but drags in a few places, despite frequent use of slapstick humor and magic used to leap over logic gaps, which seems odd. A leaner, more focused movie with less filler might have been a snappier watch and considering the narrative is the weakest element, I doubt much would have been missed. I think this winds up as a watchable, just fun enough movie, but I can’t give it a strong recommendation.
Although Owen Vaccaro has the central role in The House with a Clock in Its Walls, the real lead is Jack Black, who tunes his normal mania to another level here, chewing scenes like he starving to death. Black has some dramatic chops, but is best known for outlandish, over the top performances and he lives up that reputation in this one. He goes for broke in even minor, mundane moments, dialing up his persona and giving little to his costars. And that seems to be one of the main issues with the movie, as Black is content to turn up the volume and assume that his costars will keep up, rather than playing to their strengths. He seems to just want to steal the scenes and takes a loud, obnoxious path to that goal. To be fair, the approach does sometimes work, but his scenes with Cate Blanchett suffer. So while b movie fans might appreciate his absolute ham fisted effort here, the movie could have been better as a whole if he had worked with, instead of over his costars. Blanchett performs well and injects a lot of quirk into the role, but the material doesn’t give her much to do, settling for mediocre one liners or banter segments. The cast also includes Colleen Camp, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Kyle MacLachlan, and of course, Owen Vaccaro.