‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ Review: Fee-Fie, Ho-Hum

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“Jack” is never antic enough to be a true comedy or original enough in its action sequences to seem like more than a warmed-over version of too many movies we’ve seen before

Fee-fie, ho-hum.

“Jack the Giant Slayer” is only incrementally more fun than a spate of other recent action-fantasy movies based on classic fairy tales. It has too much of a whiff of the familiar to stand very tall.

This 3D “Jack” follows in the once-upon-a-time footsteps of “Red Riding Hood” (2011), “Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012) and last month’s “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” as well as “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012).

It, too, offers a variation on an oft-told tale and peoples it with a mix of live actors and computer-generated digital monsters. (“Jack” was originally slated for a June 2012 release but was pushed back to 2013 early last year.)

“Jack” takes as its starting point the familiar story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” That’s the one about the poor youth who accepts seemingly worthless beans for the family cow only to have the beans sprout into a towering beanstalk, with a nasty giant dwelling at its tippy-top.

In the movie, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is an impecunious orphan living on a farm with his ill-tempered uncle when he acquires his magic beans. New to this “Jack” is an adventure-seeking princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who provides Jack with both a love interest and a reason to climb the beanstalk to fight the giants after they take her prisoner.

Yes, that’s giants plural, as in hulking, slobbering, carnivorous masses of ‘em, all turned on by the smell of nearby humans. “Jack’s” CG  giants look and act like close relatives of the trolls seen in “The Hobbit,” complete with similar bad dental work and questionable personal hygiene.

The movie cooks up a complicated back-story, told in a prologue, about the giants having come to earth way back when and a brave king repelling them and banishing them forever to their own kingdom high in the sky. That heroic king, it turns out, was an ancestor of Isabelle’s.

The giants have been biding their time until they can exact their revenge and once more munch on humans. When Jack inadvertently drops a magic bean and a massive beanstalk takes root, giants and humans once again must match wits and weapons.

The movie is fitfully amusing, thanks to director Bryan Singer’s (“X-Men” and “Superman”) obvious relish for his human performers. Stanley Tucci contributes a sneering turn as a power-hungry villain (is there any other kind?) and Ewan McGregor imbues his noble knight with Errol Flynn-like dash.

As the movie’s hero and heroine, Hoult and Tomlinson are appealing but strike no special sparks. Brits Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan and Ewen Bremner also turn up in “Jack,” as does Bill Nighy, who provides the voice for the dominant head of General Fallon, the two-headed leader of the giants.

The problem is that “Jack” is never antic enough to be a true comedy or original enough in its action sequences to seem like more than a warmed over version of too many movies we’ve seen before. The variations it works on the familiar fairy tale just aren’t clever or revisionist enough to bewitch or cast much of a spell. This is popcorn entertainment originating from kernels that are more than a little stale.

Warning to parents: The PG-13 film is way too violent and scary–the giants enthusiastically bite the heads off of humans–to take small kids to see.