Stormbreaker (2006)

Director: Geoffrey Sax
Alex Pettyfer, Sarah Bolger, Bill Nighy, Sophie Okonedo, Mickey Rourke, Alicia Silverstone, Damian Lewis, Missi Pyle, Andy Serkis, Ewan McGregor, Robbie Coltrane
Based on the book by Anthony Horrowitz

The Alex Rider series of books (6 so far) by Anthony Horrowitz have been enormously successful, so it was inevitable that they would be turned into a film series. Well, at least an attempt would be made to make them into a film series. With DVD rentals and sales, these days it is harder to discern what constitutes a hit film, but from word of mouth and critical reaction, it would appear that Stormbreaker was a flop. Which is a shame because the film itself is extremely entertaining, and to my mind, only marred by some awful music choices.

Without giving away too many plot points, the thrust of the story is this. Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) lives with his uncle Ian (Ewan McGregor) and his American live-in housekeeper, Jack (Alicia Silverstone). Ian Rider is often away on business and Jack takes care of Alex. What kind of business does Ian Rider do? Most of the world thinks he’s in banking, but really he is an M.I.6 operative. As the film begins, he is a tad careless performing one of his missions. His mistake costs him his life.

The official line about Ian Rider’s death was that he was in a car accident and he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Alex has trouble believing this and does a bit of snooping around. This brings him into contact with Ian Rider’s superiors, Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy), and Mrs Jones (Sophie Okonedo). Finally Alex learns the truth, but he doesn’t like it. And things don’t get any better when he finds out that M.I.6 wants him for a mission. Alex is reluctant to undertake the mission, but Blunt threatens to deport Jack, because her visa has expired. Alex agrees. And that’s how 14-year-old Alex Rider becomes a secret agent.

Along the way Alex comes across various nefarious characters. Mickey Rourke plays the sinister billionaire Darius Sayle, a man who outwardly seems generous and community minded, but on the inside is bitter and twisted and seeks revenge for wrongs of the past. Andy Serkis plays Mr Grin, an evil henchman with facial scarring from a knife throwing circus trick that went horribly wrong. And last, but not least is Nadia Vole, played by (Missi Pyle). Vole is Sayle’s personal assistant, who seems to have an aversion to fish.

From some quarters, the critical reaction to the casting of Alex Pettyfer has been harsh, but I think he carries the film well, and he is only going to grow as an actor. There too have been some unfair critical comparisons with the Harry Potter series and in particular Daniel Radcliffe. These are unfair because Radcliffe has had four films to grow into his role – if you go back and watch The Philosopher’s Stone you can see how much he has improved. But Pettyfer hasn’t been given a chance. I think he does a good job conveying the range of emotions as required by the story, and he stands out in the physical action sequences. His martial arts scene in the scrap metal yard is well choreographed and he performs the scene with a large amount of believability. He sells it.

Most of the publicity that Stormbreaker did generate was for the amount of big name celebrity cameos. Ewan McGregor was featured heavily in the advertising campaigns but his character dies before the main credits. Stephen Fry has a brief but memorable turn as Smithers, the gadget master. And Robbie Coltrane turns up at the end as the Prime Minister of Britain.

Alex Rider has a lot of competition is the child spy stakes, with Cody Banks and the Spy Kids movies proving to be very popular. But I think that Alex Rider has got what it takes to stand on his own and become an engaging cinematic character. And here’s hoping that DVD rentals and sales help raise the profile of this film and a sequel gets made, because I for one am looking forward to Alex’s next adventure.

The Alex Rider series of books are:
• Stormbreaker
• Point Blanc
• Skeleton Key
• Eagle Strike
• Scorpia
• Arch Angel
• Snakehead

This review is based on the Roadshow Entertainment Australia DVD

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