Based on the 1986 Stephen King novel of the same name, “It” became a 1990 made-for-TV movie that aired on ABC. As those kinds of productions from that time period go, it wasn’t bad, developing a kind of cult following. However, it was far from perfect.
One of the objectives of a movie remake should be to improve on the original, and the new version of “It” (Warner Brothers/New Line) does so in one funny way. It’s much more amusing than its predecessor, due in large part to the wisecracking character of Richie, played by Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame. Every time Richie cracks a joke, even the corny and inappropriate ones, the movie comes to life. Thankfully, the jokes are delivered at a rapid pace.
Richie and his fellow nerdy friends Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) are regularly bullied by ruthless classmate thug Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) and his goons in late `80s Derry, Maine. Henry, who happens to be the son of the town’s sheriff, also strikes fear in the hearts of new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), home-schooled contemporary Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a girl with an undeserved reputation. Henry’s violent and vitriolic outbursts are motivated by race, anti-Semitism and misogyny.
Fear is also the thing that binds the lovable losers together. Individually, they struggle with their own private terrors. Beverly is being sexually molested by her father. Bill hasn’t gotten over the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Stanley, the son of Derry’s rabbi, can’t prepare for his Bar Mitzvah because the woman in a Modigliani-esque painting terrorizes him. Little does Eddie know that the asthma attacks he suffers from are the byproduct of his controlling mother’s Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
Feeding on their fears, literally, is shapeshifting, dancing clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Returning to Derry every 27 years to wreak havoc on the town (and especially the children) and slaughter residents, Pennywise has zeroed in on these particular adolescents and finds a variety of ways to terrify and torment them.
With such promising groundwork – a best selling Stephen King novel and popular TV movie version – it’s shocking how “It” goes wrong in so many ways. Andy Muschietti’s direction is clunky and labored. Why it took three people (Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman) to come up with this overly long, boring and not particularly scary screenplay is a mystery. The special effects, while certainly more advanced than what we saw in 1990, are far from special.
Particularly insulting is a bit about references to AIDS (don’t forget, the movie is set in the late 1980s), considering that the movie ends with Richie, Bill and company, taking a blood oath. Whatever you do, don’t miss the closing credits punchline that declares that this is merely “Chapter One”. Rating: C-