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Review: New 'Potter' tries to do too much

Latest in the series lacks sparkle of earlier works

By Paul Clinton

Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson return in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."



(CNN) -- I have enjoyed the magical charms of the Harry Potter franchise since the highly anticipated (and highly hyped) first film, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," cast its spell upon the big screen in November, 2001.

My love affair with the residents of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry continued with "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," in 2002, and was sustained with "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" in 2004. I not only loved the films; I read the books too.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did not read "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (life, somehow, just got in the way), the fourth in the series. Perhaps that is one reason that the new film based on the book didn't work its wizardry on this reviewer. Frankly, the entire film felt like the cinematic version of Hamburger Helper -- too little meat trying to do too much.

I'm sure that the movie is true to J.K. Rowling's book -- she (or her fans) would allow nothing less. And I am aware that "Goblet of Fire" was darker and more sinister then the previous wildly successful books -- this is the first "Potter" film with a PG-13 rating -- but, still, I was a bit underwhelmed. (Watch a look at Harry's darker side -- 1:58)

I'm not saying the magic is gone, but I've lost that loving feeling. Director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves have attempted to make a movie that is part thriller, part action flick and part budding love story. None of the themes mesh together very well. The result feels somewhat clunky and disjointed.

"Goblet's" basic plot involves a competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. The contest, called the Triwizard Tournament, is being hosted at Hogwarts; the prize is the highly coveted Triwizard Cup.

The boys from Durmstrang all look like throwbacks from a Hitler youth group and the girls from Beauxbatons, devoid of expression, float around like butterflies trying to escape a net.

At the outset, the Goblet of Fire selects one student from each school to compete in three life-threatening tasks; all candidates must be 17 years or older. But after one name from each school is picked, the Goblet spits out one more nomination: that of 14-year-old Harry.

Against his will -- and better judgment -- he resigns himself to playing the game, thereby risking his life. Not even Hogwarts' headmaster, the beloved Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) can save him from taking part.

Love and Death Eaters

But Harry has other problems: working up the nerve to ask his beautiful classmate Cho Chang (Katie Leung) to the annual Yule Ball. Yep, the kids are growing up and the hormones are kicking in. Adolescent romance is in the air -- and so is adolescent clumsiness. Ron Weasley is totally oblivious to the growing feelings of Hermione (Emma Watson) as she tries in vain to get him to ask her to the social event of the year.

Even Hagrid is not immune to the love bug as he falls under the spell of the flamboyant Madame Maxime (Frances De La Tour), the Headmistress of Beauxbatons. I don't want to be nasty and say this character is amazingly unattractive; let's just say she's perfect for Hagrid.

Hovering over all these events is the return of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who after 13 years is once again appearing in public and has unleashed his followers, the Death Eaters, to do his dirty work.

The cast of Hogwarts instructors has mostly stayed the same, but there's one new -- and really interesting character -- in the mix. That would be Mad-Eye Moody, played by the excellent Irish character actor Brendan Gleeson ("Gangs of New York," "Cold Mountain"). He's asked by Dumbledore to keep his bright blue eye on Harry and help in any way he can during the tournament.

But Mad-Eye is one of the rare sparks in "Goblet of Fire." Indeed, I guess my biggest beef with the film is that many of the other characters we have grown to love and hate -- Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), his evil father Lucius (Jason Isaacs), Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Professor Minerva McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith) and Hogwarts Academy itself (which has become a character just as much as the human cast) -- are all given short shrift. Even the interaction between Harry, Ron and Hermione has been trimmed down to almost nothing.

Newell, best known for directing "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Pushing Tin," is not necessarily the go-to guy for projects with computer-generated images, but he proves here that he's fast learner and does a commendable job of pulling off all the action needed to make a "Potter" film work. It's just that it would have been nice to give him more to work with.

So I'm less than thrilled. No matter. Seeing a "Potter" film is generally worth it. There's much to appreciate here, and there will be many people to appreciate it.

And now, there's always that fifth film to look forward to.

What does Entertainment Weekly think? Click hereexternal link to read the magazine's coverage.

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is a Warner Bros. film. The studio, like CNN, is a unit of Time Warner.

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