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Boasting uncommonly handsome production values and a stellar cast, the awkwardly titled The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box nonetheless feels like a stillborn attempt at a franchise starter. This kids-oriented feature based on a young adult novel by G.P. Taylor boasts some entertaining moments — most of them provided by a deliciously entertaining, tongue-in-cheek turn from Michael Sheen — but it lacks the oomph necessary to compete against the major studio juggernauts. The film, being given a limited theatrical release, will no doubt find its main audience on home video.
The protagonist of the story set in 1885 London is 17-year-old Mariah Mundi (Aneurin Barnard), whose life turns upside down when his parents (Ioan Gruffudd and Keeley Hawes) mysteriously vanish and his younger brother (Xavier Atkins) is kidnapped. The intrepid youngster soon learns that his parents worked for a secret government agency known as the Bureau of Antiquities, and that their disappearance has to do with an ancient object that, as its name suggests, has the power to turn anything in it to gold.
Along with his parents’ dashing fellow agent Will Charity (Sheen), Mariah follows a trail of clues to the lavish Prince Regent Hotel, where the pair soon finds themselves battling its evil owner (Sam Neill) and manager (Lean Headey), who covet the Midas Box and are willing to eliminate anyone who gets in their way.
Director Jonathan Newman brings stylistic flair if not always narrative coherence to the fantastical proceedings, which are enhanced by the lavish, steampunk-style production design, evoking Victorian-era England. But for all the film’s visual opulence and elaborately staged action sequences, its greatest pleasures stem from the performances, especially Neill’s moustache-twirling villain and Sheen’s wittily gung-ho disguise-wearing secret agent. And while Gruffudd and Headey are sadly not given enough to do, Barnard is solidly appealing as the teenage hero to whom young audiences will most relate.
A cliffhanger coda during the end credits provides a less than subtle hint that the filmmakers hope for a sequel, but it mainly seems like wishful thinking.
Opens Jan. 10 (RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment)
Production: Entertainment Motion Pictures, Arcadia Motion Pictures
Cast: Michael Sheen, Aneurin Barnard, Sam Neill, Ioan Gruffudd, Keeley Hawes, Xavier Atkins, Lena Headey
Director: Jonathan Newman
Screenwriters: Christian Taylor, Matthew Huffman
Producers: Karl Richards, Peter Bevan, Ibon Cormenzana, Ignasi Estape
Executive producers: Marina Fuentes, Adrian Politowski, Nigel Thomas, Maurice Chasse, Marilyn Wallace, Fumiko Thomas, Gilles Waterkeyn, Jeremy Burdek, James Gibb, Charlotte Walls, Javier Ares, Angel Durandez, Julian Garcia Rubi, Julio Piedra, Cesar Vargas, Gabriel Arias-Salgado
Director of photography: Unax Mendia
Editors: David Gallart, Bernat Vilaplana
Production designer: James Lewis
Costume designer: Annie Hardinge
Composer: Fernando Velaquez
Rated PG, 98 min.
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