IF review – IGN

Childhood Imagination Lost in Translation

When movies set out to extol the virtue of childhood imagination, they often end up revealing their lack of the same. Even Steven Spielberg, Hollywood’s eternal lost boy, isn’t immune to empty platitudes on the matter. (For proof, look no further than the lead-footed Peter Pan adaptation Hook or his saccharine Twilight Zone: The Movie installment, “Kick the Can.”) To the list of grownups flattening the adolescent experience into cliché, we must now add John Krasinski. IF, the one-time Office desk jockey’s latest venture behind the camera, is a cloying and oddly flat special-effects fable – a kind of bootleg Amblin Entertainment that never stops waxing rhapsodic about the beauty and creativity and magic of youth, even as it fails to capture much of that itself.

Miscast Whimsical Characters

It’s Krasinski who does a lot of the waxing. Having previously played an emotionally constipated, necessarily taciturn parent in his sci-fi corker A Quiet Place, the writer-director casts himself this time as a much more whimsical “girl dad” (Krasinski’s words, spoken in an ingratiating pre-recorded introduction) whose dialogue may have you pining for another alien-provoked vow of silence. “The most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves,” goes one of the character’s nuggets of shopworn insight, which he delivers via heart-to-hearts with his 12-year-old daughter, Bea (Cailey Fleming). At first, Krasinski just seems woefully miscast, performing labored dad-joke shtick in a hospital room. But maybe the awkwardness of the comedy suits a man struggling to mend his broken family after the defining, Disney-ish loss of the girl’s mother.

CGI Menagerie without Substance

Forced to crash in the New York City apartment of her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) while Dad prepares for a medical operation of his own – just one element of Krasinski’s script that’s under-clarified to the point of confusion – Bea meets Calvin (Ryan Reynolds), a put-upon upstairs neighbor with whom she shares an unusual ability. Both of them, as it turns out, are able to see and hear the forgotten imaginary friends – the “IF”s of the title – of the world, a fantasy posse of colorful creatures abandoned by the children that dreamt them into reality. Coasting on sardonic autopilot, Reynolds does a family-friendly riff on hisexasperated quipster routine.

Lackluster Execution of an Intriguing Idea

Whatever personality these chipper critters express is provided entirely by the Hollywood ringers voicing them. Whatever dimension they possess is thanks to the animators, not the script. Where’s the neurotic pathos of Bing Bong, Inside Out’s tragic variation on the same idea? IF’s mascot ensemble is more like what you might find in a one-joke “silence your cellphones” commercial, the kind designed to only marginally resemble a real movie.

Underwhelming Performance

Mostly, the filmmaker leans on his collaborators. Even beyond its all-star, dozen-deep voice cast of favor-dispensing cameo players, IF is filthy with Hollywood talent, though no one is exactly firing on all cylinders. From the great composer Michael Giacchino, Krasinski has commissioned a downright pushy score, a desperately tinkling symphony on which the film rests all of its tearjerker ambitions. And nothing quite reveals a Spielbergian envy like the involvement of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski; bathing its schmaltzy story in a warmly inviting luster, IF superficially resembles what it apes, as when Bea’s eyes are drawn to a brilliant stream of light flowing through a keyhole.

Out of His Element

The Quiet Place films established Krasinski as a Hollywood hitmaker with a real command of silence, stillness, and suspense. They also betrayed the M. Night Shyamalan-shaped shadow hanging over his games of suppressed panic, leaping danger, and trauma overcome through extraterrestrial crucible. Sadly, Krasinski just seems out of his element with this all-ages material. There’s no enchantment in his step, no sense of wonder in how he frames the digital effects, no pop to the way he stages the big group dance party (a regrettable, midfilm variation on the kind that closes too many animated adventures). The filmmaker may have written IF for his kids, but he hasn’t sidestepped the failings of so many movies that tell us about the magic of childhood rather than showing us.