If there was ever a case to be made against doing a young James Bond film series, “Stormbreaker” (aka. “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” in the US) will serve as a key piece of evidence in that argument. This utterly bland spy actioneer for the teen crowd lacks thrills, humour, interesting characters or even a decent story to pull viewers along. Armed with a limited budget, it also means the action and special effects aren’t on a level that will appeal to even the attention-deficit kids let alone more discerning older audiences.
Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider novels are notable for at least some realism in dealing with the idea of a young gifted student recruited into the ranks of MI6. That’s all out the window here, replaced by generic Hollywood action fare, supporting performances by notable actors that are more caricatures than anything else, and a blond good-looking 15-year-old newcomer named Alex Pettyfer in the lead. It might have worked as a springboard for Pettyfer, but he proves so bland and wooden you wonder if anyone actually tested the boy with other actors first.
A teenager overly burdened with a lead role though is a passable mistake. Far worse a crime is that the film takes one of the biggest casts in recent memory and utterly wastes them in ham-fisted, overly eccentric roles. Bill Nighy and Stephen Fry, taking on the ‘M’ & ‘Q’ roles respectively from the 007 films, come off the best as they desperately try to generate some laughs (even they can’t manage a giggle). Damian Lewis in a very small role as a Russian assassin is one of the few roles that actually holds some weight, especially compared with the bland turns by Ewan McGregor, Sophie Okonedo and Mickey Rourke or the far too silly or annoying sidekick parts by Alicia Silverstone, Missi Pyle and Andy Serkis.
The general plot involving a biological weapon, a corrupted computer network, and a personal vendetta against the reigning Prime Minister is too silly for words, and in any case doesn’t even kick into gear until the halfway point in the film. Before that we’re subjected to a bunch of lazy action scenes as Rider begrudgingly accepts his fate and starts training to accept the role. Every now and then there’s the odd moment that one thinks the filmmakers are actually thinking with their brains – Nighy’s cold use of extortion to recruit our hero, the rooftop conversation with Lewis, etc.
For each of those however there’s ten hair-balled scenes or gimmicks thrown in there for the sake of it. The bad guy owns a giant jellyfish which you know is going to end up on someone’s face. There’s a female love interest for Alex whom he meets briefly, but it’s only so the filmmakers can exploit her horse and then her potential death in the big finale. There’s no genuine creativity or ingenuity here (a factor which made the “Spy Kids” films much better) or at least the odd moment of humour (ala the disappointing but certainly stronger “Johnny English”). It’s pure machine cut, fast food filmmaking that leaves a foul taste in the mouths of everyone but the youngest member of your family.