city of ember good for kids but lacks storyline spark

Title: City of Ember

Title: City of Ember

Director: Gil Kenan

Writers: Caroline Thompson and Jeanne Duprau

Genre: Science fiction

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau, Toby Jones, Mary Kay Place and Marianne Jean-Baptise

Rated: PG with mild violence

Duration: 1 hour 35 minutes

Ask the clued-up 12-year-olds Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and they will tell you that taking matters into their own hands was the only viable option they had in City of Ember, a science fiction film that fails to jump out of its mediocrity shell.

As you watch it you'll ask yourself: "Where have I seen that before?"

And if science fiction is this depressing, then I'm not a die-hard devotee. But nevertheless, in real life Ronan, a brilliant young actress whose talent is clearly wasted in City of Ember, is 14-years old, close to the age of the character she portrays, unlike 24-year-old Treadaway.

How "Mr Dimple Chin" (that's what I call him) Treadaway manages to ooze the energy of a 12-year-old is nothing short of amazing - he pulls it off with aplomb albeit with detrimental consequences to his fledging career. The downside of his showing in City of Ember is that it might limit his acting to strictly infantile child-teenage roles. Rewind back to comedian Jim Carey. Try as he may, he will never convince in a serious, emotionally-charged movie set up.

The film's fault is the flat Caroline Thompson screenplay adapted from a dazzling 2003 novel by Jeanne Duprau called The City of Ember. Hence we can't blame the actors but director Gil Kenan and producers Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, 1994), Gary Goetzman and Steven Shareshian. One wonders what damage the four will inflict on the movie's rumoured sequel from the sequel novel The People of Sparks as City of Ember ended on an obvious cliffhanger.

Though lacking a story punch, City of Ember will please kids with its clever gadgets, swooshing sound effects and unending chases through buried rivers and tunnels. Mayfleet and Harrow discover that their 200-year-old city, Ember, is built underground and faces unpreventable destruction.

This while the crooked man in charge, Mayor Cole (Bill Murray), who is well aware of the looming disaster, is planning to save nobody but himself by stockpiling food supplies in a secret bunker, leaving scores of residents facing cruel extermination. To make matters worse, they run out of food and face blackouts. This is part of life thanks to the city's deteriorating hydroelectric generator.

Mayfleet and Harrow have to map out a way to help the residents escape the hidden city of misery with all their lives intact. Gosh, I feel like yawning.