Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (PG-13) 

Directed by David Yates

Now playing Northgate, Edwards 9, Edwards 21, Edwards IMAX

The Harry Potter books should make life easy for Hollywood directors. They're children's books, after all, and the kids apparently need a bit of stage direction to help them follow the plot. J.K. Rowling's books are loaded up with everything but stage direction. They're for kids, yes, but one reason adults love them too is because they describe a rich, fully-realized world that doesn't require a lot of work to imagine. Rowling has put everything on the page. Just hand a copy of the book to the actors, camera operators and set designers, and off you go. So why, then, does the latest Potter flick, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, fall so flat?

I wish I knew. I've been a reader of the series, albeit without the level of enthusiasm of some of my colleagues and friends. I enjoy the books, and have loved actor Jim Dale's readings of them. In fact, there's no better way to endure a long drive than by hearing him act out every character in the whole bleeding Hogwartian universe.

Likewise, I've eagerly gone to the movies, and was pleased to see faithful reproductions of the books. I've loved to see the different actors take on the roles of the loveable characters. But I've not been one of those slavish fans who is repulsed by tweaks of the story and character arcs. If the director has a better way to represent, say, the Quidditch World Cup, then go to it, I say. I just ask that you keep me interested, which may be the reason that I was so disappointed in director David Yates' version. It's a capable enough representation of the story. In fact, it's impressive for its devotion to the doings of the book.

But that's where the appeal ends. The movie has zero flair, and the acting, although credible (the actors at least know their characters well by now), is pretty humdrum stuff, frankly.

This is true most with the less-accomplished actors who play the kids in the book. Whether it's Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley or Emily Watson as Hermione Granger, you get the impression that they're lost on this one. It's almost as if they don't have their lines nailed down. Instead, this trio's exchanges, which form the heart and soul of the Potter stories, are fairly flat. It's too bad; Grint, for one, is the runaway star of the trio. He seems tailor-made to play the devoted, if hapless, mate of young Potter, but here he's limited to some dour grunts and a few dull line readings about Hermione. The spark that the punchy trio shared is gone. This is not because the actors lack the ability; instead, they've been left to wander by Yates.

Some things are beyond Yates' control. The actor Michael Gambon, who has played Wizard professor Dumbledore since the death of Richard Harris in 2002, is an absolute wash in the role. He's completely without expression and shows none of the playfulness and sincerity that Rowling wrote into the character or that Harris brought to the screen.

Thankfully, the cast is peppered with solid, talented actors like Alan Rickman, who once again takes up the role of Severus Snape; I suspect Rickman could read a grocery list and manage to keep an audience entertained. Brendan Gleeson returns as Alastor "Mad-­Eye" Moody and likewise chews up the screen in the moments he has on it.

Overall, however, the movie, instead of taking the book and flying with it, merely delivers it, with cameras and special effects. That's all well and good if you're a fan, but it's not enough to make me want to see another Potter sendup in this manner. I'll stick to the books.

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