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'It Chapter Two' doesn't know when to close the book

27 years later, the "Losers Club" returns to Derry to face Pennywise the clown once more, in the sequel to the 2017 horror hit. David Daniel has a look.

Posted: Sep 4, 2019 8:00 AM
Updated: Sep 4, 2019 8:00 AM

"It Chapter Two" is in many ways a victim of its own success, a sequel virtually assured a vast audience that proceeds to undermine its virtues by conspicuously overplaying them and overstaying its welcome.

Horror movies are usually known for their economy, but "It" drags on nearly three hours, until a level of numbing repetition creeps into its elaborately staged scares. The result is a movie with a lot of strong moments, but which feels too much like "It: Endgame" or "Once Upon a Time ... in Derry," aspiring to epic qualities that it doesn't earn or possess.

The first movie, which focused on a group of barely pubescent children forced to deal with an ancient evil embodied by the killer clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), had a real charm in the bonding of those self-proclaimed losers, which brought Stephen King's novel -- previously turned into a mostly admirable miniseries -- to life.

As in King's book, this chapter reunites those kids 27 years later to finish what they started. It has the benefit of seeing the youths juxtaposed with their adult incarnations -- played by James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader, among others -- but spends so much time building toward the inevitable climax that it's only a marginal improvement over the weak ending of the TV version.

Indeed, McAvoy's Bill -- a writer whose stammer returns as old fears are revisited -- is teased about his inability to deliver good endings, a joke that strikes a little too close to home. (There's also a King cameo in which he takes the author to task, just in case anybody wasn't clear on the meta nature of the gag.)

Director Andy Muschietti is back at the helm, having earned the latitude to flesh out the story. Part of that involves not only showing where these characters are in their lives, but coming up with a credible explanation for what would lure them back to their Derry, Maine, hometown and the terrifying challenge they must overcome.

After reuniting the characters, though -- actors James Ransone, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan and Andy Bean round out the adult cast -- the narrative splits them up, sending them off on parallel adventures. During that stretch the movie grinds to a halt, finally rallying when it's mostly too late.

One moment, when the character of Eddie (Ransone) sees something horrifying, unintentionally sums up the problem. "This is Derry. I'm kind of getting used to it," he deadpans. By that point, we all are.

This "It" has certainly stepped up in class special effects-wise, and many of the visuals are striking. The cast is strong, especially Hader and Ransone, who transform their characters' banter and teasing into exchanges that are funny and, given the circumstances, understandably profane.

Still, anyone vaguely familiar with the story knows where this is heading, and Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman don't make the set pieces dazzling enough to merit such a prolonged trip to the finish.

King's work, notably, has often fared better in television, where the miniseries format offers the latitude to put more meat on the writer's frightening bones.

"It" has largely mimicked that effect by dividing the 1,100-page novel into two films, which should work out just dandy from a box-office standpoint. By that measure, there ought to be another reunion, complete with AARP cards, circa 2043.

Creatively speaking, though, while the movie is still worth seeing, there's both not enough and too much, ultimately, to really float your boat.

"It Chapter 2" premieres Friday in the US. It's rated R and is being released by Warner Bros., which like CNN is a unit of WarnerMedia.

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