In the Bad Movie First Lines Hall of Fame, a special place has been reserved for “My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name, Susie.” Credit for that can’t go entirely to “The Lovely Bones” screenwriters Fran Walsh, Phillippa Bovens and Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), because they were working from a novel by Alice Sebold that opens the same way.
The story begins in Pennsylvania in 1973 when 14-year-old Susie (Saoirse Ronan, “Atonement”) is murdered on her way home from school by a neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci, “Julie & Julia”). Tucci said in interviews that he was made up to look like Everybody Else, the guys you see all the time and never pay attention to “ unless, like Harvey, they have suspicious eyes and move in a furtive manner. The character looks like Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, only with a lower hairline.
When Susie is four hours late getting home, her parents, Jack (Mark Wahlberg, “Max Payne”) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz, “Definitely, Maybe”) call the police, and officer Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli, TV’s “Life on Mars”) shows up.
The cops soon locate the place where Susie was killed. Get this: It’s an underground clubhouse Harvey dug and decorated in a cornfield that’s right behind the houses in the neighborhood where both he and the Salmons live. Anyone looking out their back door on any of the nights it took to construct this bunker could have seen what was going on. Harvey has been a serial killer of young women and girls for 13 years with a list of victims longer than Jack the Ripper’s, and this is his version of a smart idea?
Later, he moves a safe from his basement to the back of his car, alone, in less than around 20 minutes. It’s a big safe. And heavy.
The movie tells how the people in Susie’s life come to grips with her murder when no one knows who the killer is. It’s a worthy topic, and maybe Sebold’s novel handles it well, but director Peter Jackson (“King Kong”) “ who, in his pre-Oscar days, made a brilliant film about two girls murdering an adult (“Heavenly Creatures”) “ has become both silly and pretentious. This picture is overloaded with dime-store symbolism, infantile surrealism and supernatural hoo-ha. Where’s Jennifer Love Hewitt when you need her?
“These,” Susie tells us, “were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections “sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent “that happened after I was gone.” Since when were bones connective tissue?
Susan Sarandon (“Speed Racer”) is embarrassing as Susie’s lush of a grandmother, and Nikki SooHoo (“Stick It”) is Susie’s guide in the most absurd heaven you’ve ever seen. Looks just like New Zealand.
This picture is a major disappointment that will have you sighing in disbelief every few minutes. “Doug Bentin