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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010

'Lovely Bones' struggles to flesh out on screen

By Claudia Puig
USA Today

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Saoirse Ronan plays wide-eyed teen Susie Salmon, who is killed and ends up watching her family from "in-between," in the screen adaptation of Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones."

Paramount Pictures

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PG-13, for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language

135 minutes

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Some books are not meant to be adapted to the big screen.

Alice Sebold's best-selling "The Lovely Bones" falls into that category. The novel, told from the perspective of a murdered 14-year-old girl, is chilling and poetic.

It can't have been easy to adapt because of its reliance on the musings of a dead, omniscient narrator. But a device that works on the page comes off artificial and emotionless on screen.

The movie strikes clashing tones, veering from lightheartedness to heavy-handedness.

It's hard not to have high expectations of director Peter Jackson after "The Lord of the Rings." And given his haunting "Heavenly Creatures" (1994), about teen-agers and murder, he would seem the right filmmaker to adapt this book.

But the scenes that take place in an alternate universe a way station between heaven and Earth are jarring. Depicting heaven has long stymied directors, and Jackson's cheesy computer-generated world breaks no new ground.

Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement") is well-cast as the wide-eyed Susie Salmon, who has a passion for photography, loving parents (Mark Wahlberg and Ra-chel Weisz) and a crush on a high school senior (Reese Ritchie). Susie is lured into an underground lair by George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Tucci gives a nightmare-inducing performance as the neighbor whose pleasantries are almost as scary as his violent predilections.

Jackson gets the thriller scenes right. He sets up a tense sequence in which a detective (Michael Imperioli) and Harvey eye each other through windows of a dollhouse. Susie's sister, Lindsey (Rose McIver), is suspicious and sneaks into Harvey's house to find evidence.

But the conceit of Susie trapped in a DayGlo world between the one she left and her final resting place, imparting lessons on coping with death, feels preachy.

It's more moving when she utters simply: "I was here for a moment, and then I was gone."