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Ten Word or Less Review: Peter Parker and Anakin Skywalker melded together, then given camera.

The superhero genre gets its mandated handheld movie treatment with Chronicle, a mixed bag of ideas and execution that spins a common comic book yarn while also trying be unlike anything we’ve seen.  The ambitious idea doesn’t come off though.  The tried and true conventions of comic books and their big screen brethren are here.  Andrew, a lowly high school kid with a lot of issues finds himself the recipient of cosmic powers, but unlike so many mutated heroes which came before, Andrew documents his morphing from normal human to super human with a camera.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) has some prototypical teenage problems, shy, awkward, picked on, no girlfriend, but Chronicle goes deeper.   The roots of Andrew’s anguish aren’t just these cliches, but his home life as well.  Andrews’ mother is dying of cancer and his father is an abusive, bitter alcoholic.  In short, Andrew is living in a spirit crushing Hell.  His whole reason for picking up a camera in the first place is defensive.  Chronicle’s first scene shows Andrew turning the camera on as his drunken father beats on his bedroom door.  Once Andrew reveals that he’s documenting the event, his father backs off.  It’s this kind of perceptive and unorthodox scene that leads the viewer to believe Chronicle may be about to document something very different.  Something the superhero genre could desperately use, new perspective.  We go along with Andrew and his camera as he experiences the daily humiliation that is his life.  He has only one pseudo-friend, a cousin named Matt (Alex Russell).  At an off the grid party in the middle of nowhere Andrew, Matt and soon to be class president Steve (Michael Jordan) go down a mysterious hole in the ground.  There they find a mysterious object emanating the kind of noises and lights that usually give people super powers or cancer.  They don’t get cancer.  A few weeks later Andrew turns on his camera and the trio have begun to discover that they possess the powers which have possessed so many to don tights and a cape.  But unlike Peter Parker or Superman, Andrew doesn’t feel compelled to save people from burning buildings.  After a life of belittlement and abuse, he feels compelled to be the one burning the building.

Chronicle is only the second movie of 2012 I’ve seen but it’s likely to go down as one of the most frustrating.  Andrew’s fleeting scenes of a sad and abusive home life give the movie a sobering edge rarely found in your typical Marvel fluff.  We never saw Uncle Ben trying to beat the crap out of Peter Parker.  But these scenes don’t make up enough of Chronicle’s brief 85 minute run time.  Chronicle quickly becomes a collected hodgepodge of good and bad ideas, well thought out scenes (home life) followed up by embarrassing ones (hole in the ground).  Scenes documenting the trio discovering their abilities are also a highlight.  The 85 minute run time makes Chronicle feel brisk but also incomplete.  There are more than a few places where another scene or story beat could be used to flesh the material out.  It’s also hamstrung by a predictable ending which it doesn’t have the budget or technique to pull off.  Even though Andrew’s powers keep progressing the rest of his life remains a painful mess.  Chronicle doggedly insists on humiliating Matt at every turn so that his eventual succumbing to his humanity hating impulses feels like a forgone conclusion.

And despite all these setbacks Chronicle‘s biggest overriding problem is its over worn handheld format, a technique which slowly but surely just gets in the way.  The movie takes great pains to keep its cameras between us and the action, eventually becoming a torrid of handheld clips and video feeds during its overreaching finale.  Chronicle would’ve benefited greatly if director Josh Trank had simply shot his movie like a movie.  The handheld POV becomes gimmicky and pointless after a while and leaves one wishing for something, maybe anything, else.

Chronicle is a mildly botched experience but it shows promise on behalf of a lot of people involved.  Dane DeHaan makes a solid impression in a part which could be very unsympathetic and grating.  Director John Trank needs a less restrictive screenplay as well as something not tied to such a debilitating visual format.  Pay attention to them in the future, but right now their movie is an uneven mess.


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