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Dustin's Review
Learn more about this film on IMDb!Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker  (2006)
Zero Stars
Directed by Geoffrey Sax
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Alicia Silverstone, Mickey Rourke, Missi Pyle, Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy, Sophie Okonedo, Sarah Bolger, Damian Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Stephen Fry, Robbie Coltrane, Jimmy Carr, Ashley Walters
2006 – 93 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for action violence and some peril).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 22, 2006.
It wouldn't take much effort or talent to make a better film than director Geoffrey Sax's last—2005's atrocious "White Noise"—but somehow he has managed to prove these odds wrong. "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker," the first and likely last picture in a proposed series about teenage secret agent Alex Rider, is a clunker of the highest order without a redeeming quality in sight. 2001's "Spy Kids" started off the fad of underage movie spies with imagination in abundance, and 2003's "Agent Cody Banks" was a likable bit of tween-targeted fluff. Traveling further down on the lexus of the subgenre sit the insufferable double threat that are 2004's "Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London" and 2004's "Thunderbirds." And finally, below that, is "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker." That this is the only one based on literary source material—a young adults novel by Anthony Horowitz—makes not a lick of difference. Director Geoffrey Sax renders every second inert, thoughtless, clumsy, and hideously artificial.

When his Uncle Ian (Ewan McGregor) is killed, 14-year-old Brit Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) is left without a legal guardian and only one loyal friend in American housekeeper Jack Starbright (Alicia Silverstone). Whisked away by two mysterious recruiters, Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy) and Mrs. Jones (Sophie Okonedo), Alex learns that Ian was secretly an undercover agent whose frequent business trips were actually death-defying missions to capture megalomaniacs. With him gone, Alex is the organization's only hope in picking up where his uncle left off. Their first assignment for Alex: pose as a computer whiz who has been invited to take a tour of the headquarters for Stormbreaker, a technologically advanced new computer that is on the eve of being released in educational institutes around the globe. Once inside, Alex immediately senses that something isn't right with creator Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke), and he'd be right. Darrius' actual plan is to release a virus from within the Stormbreaker computers that will kill millions of children.

1982's "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" is a peculiar film to lift the premise from for a PG-rated movie, but "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" does just that. The threat of a worldwide slaughter of innocent kids isn't typical family fodder, but a little charge of extra danger never hurt anyone. After all, wasn't the inherent darkness around the corners of 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" and 1971's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" a contributing factor in their widespread and enduring success with children and adults alike? That is where the comparisons end between those two classics and "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker," which is easily one of the worst and most vapid films of the year.

In conceiving of "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker," director Geoffrey Sax appears to be at a loss over the basic principles of filmmaking. His action sequences, if they can be called that, are abysmal—a series of shaky, unpronounced and barely relatable images spelling out sheer incomprehensibility. The sloppy use of stunt people in the fight scenes constantly calls attention to itself because none of them are properly matched with the actors. In several instances, this fact is so blatant that it is almost as if you are watching a skit on "MadTV."

Additionally, the plot is haphazardly set up and frustratingly unformed, not bothering to give eyeshadow-wearing villain Darrius and his Nordic-accented henchmen (Missi Pyle and Andy Serkis among them) motives or even personalities. The rest of the supporting characters are equal throwaways, not a single one of them receiving any defining traits or interesting attributes. Most, like Alex's older fellow agents-in-training, are rudimentarily introduced and then forgotten about. If they happen to pop up again before the end credits, it looks to be by accident.

So the script is terrible, the direction is irredeemably amateurish, and the technical credits, such as some shoddy greenscreen work and dank cinematography by Chris Seager, are largely uneven. Where "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" spells disaster most of all, though, is in the casting of former child model and acting newcomer Alex Pettyfer. The entire picture rests on Pettyfer's shoulders—he is playing the lead character, after all—and the results couldn't have been more botched if someone nearly as bland, like Orlando Bloom, had taken his place. Pettyfer exemplifies one facial expression—a blank stare—and has no idea how to emote on camera or give off even the vaguest screen presence. Because of this, the character of Alex Rider, who is onscreen in nearly every scene, is a shallow, insensitive afterthought. He isn't upset when his beloved uncle dies, promptly forgets all about him as well as friend and caregiver Jack when he is pulled into the spying profession, and can't even be bothered to show anger, fear or any other emotion when he does battle against Darrius atop a high-rise during the ho-hum climax. Not to dwell on the subject, but it's safe to say that a sock puppet could have been capable of delivering a more dedicated performance than Alex Pettyfer does.

"Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" is an interminable moviegoing experience. It's bereft of creativity and condescending to younger audiences, and is painfully embarrassing for adults who recognize the misspent talent involved. Alicia Silverstone (2005's "Beauty Shop") is a warm presence as the manishly-named Jack Starbright, but there isn't a line delivery that she nails. Her relationship with Alex has zero weight, what with her screeching overacting and Pettyfer's stringent imitation of a rock throughout. Mickey Rourke (2005's "Sin City") sleepwalks through his role and acts with his eye make-up. Ewan McGregor (2005's "Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith") blessedly dies before the opening credits are over. The rest, like Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo (2004's "Hotel Rwanda") and Missi Pyle (2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), are wasted. "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" is boring, empty, anticlimactic, uninspired and bankrupt of humanity. The only good that can come from its badness is the deteriorated chance of there ever being a sequel.
© 2006 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman