'Chronicle': B-Movie Gets Passing Grade
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
It's a tale as old as the myth of Icarus, told in a style as new as that of ... "Cloverfield"? Well, yeah, sort of. That makes "Chronicle" sound not all that terribly exciting, but the picture is in fact a reasonably engrossing and occasionally inventive piece of sci-fi schlock.
The movie begins from the immortal question "What would you do if you suddenly and inexplicably acquired superpowers"? The twist here is that the superpowers are bestowed on a trio of high school archetypes: friendly, gregarious would-be class prez Steve (Michael B. Jordan); bright, outgoing, scholarly Matt (Alex Russell), who's kind of self-deported from the school social scene; and, most problematically, Andrew, Matt's cousin, a spindly outcast with a drunken abusive father and a dying mother, played by Dane DeHaan with a vulnerable/surly demeanor and dark-circled eyes that suggest a young Leonardo DiCaprio contemplating going goth.
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The movie begins with a mirror shot of Andrew playing with his new video camera, and, yes, "Chronicle" is one of those "found-footage" films, although as the story continues, the movie, directed by Josh Trank from a script by Trank and Max Landis (son of director and genre sponge John Landis, and it shows), finds a multiplicity of perspectives from which to cheat. The format finds its most valuable employment as the three Seattle students, after an encounter with some pulsating crystal in a farmland pit, discover their telekinetic abilities and "film" (their format is actually video, but they continually use that word) themselves experimenting with moving bigger and bigger objects, eventually going for walks in the clouds and dodging jets, and more.
At first the philosophical Matt gets his pals to agree to some rules, but the viewer knows that's not going to last even before Matt explains to Andrew the meaning of the word "hubris." The "your near-supernatural powers are lots of fun, until they're not!" theme heralds back to the B classic "X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes," in which the hero enjoys seeing through women's blouses and beating the house in Vegas until he begins to see too much; at which point the movie begins to take on more of a resemblance to the grade-Z obscurity "Horror High," in which the unpleasant high school nerd becomes more unpleasant via chemicals and offs his classmates.
"Chronicle" is, of course, quite a bit more inventive in its mayhem depictions than that picture was: One way Andrew causes pain for his tormentors is by pulling their teeth with his mind. Eww. These touches, as gross-out-inducing as they are, were missed by this viewer once the picture reached its climax, at which point the twisted stuff gives way to a lot of variants of the old "Kneel before Zod" routine, here presented anguished-teen style, of course.
But even as its ostensible innovations flag, "Chronicle" remains watchable, and it doesn't hurt that the picture is a pretty tidy 85 minutes or so. I misspent much of my youth watching inconsequential but fun genre exercises not entirely unlike this one, so I can't front and pretend I didn't get some enjoyment out of this. Check it out, as Joe Bob Briggs would say. Is Joe Bob Briggs still around?
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.