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‘A Wrinkle in Time’ derailed by choppy storytelling

The Art of Nerding Out

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It’s said that the devil is in the details, and editing and pacing are two interlinked details of cinema that can sink a movie even when it has a lot of other things going for it.

When one or the other are amiss, the flow of the story is disrupted, popping you out of the story. When pacing and editing are really off, it can lead to disorientation, and once lost, viewers may choose not to get back into a movie. So even in the midst of gorgeous visuals and a truly emotional story, editing and pacing problems cause “A Wrinkle in Time” to crash and burn.

Based on a classic fantasy novel by Madeleine L’Engle, “Wrinkle” unspools the story of troubled teen Meg Murry (Storm Reid). Meg is struggling in the wake of the mysterious disappearance of her father (Chris Pine), a noted NASA scientist. When contacted by a trio of supernaturally powerful beings (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling), Meg takes her little brother and a new friend off on an adventure to find her father that traverses the universe.

“Wrinkle” has a lot going for it. Along with being based on popular source material, the movie is directed Ava DuVernay, the award-winning director of such films as “Selma” and “Middle of Nowhere.” The film features gorgeous sets, ornate costumes and eye-popping fantasy vistas. Some scenes evoke the kind of wonder usually reserved for films like “Lord of the Rings.”

On top of that, there are some genuinely emotional scenes in “Wrinkle.” In particular, scenes between Meg and her dad or her brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) cause the tears to well up. Reid really shines in those scenes, and I see great possibilities awaiting in her future.

Unfortunately, “Wrinkle” has a lot wrong with it, starting with the aforementioned editing issues. Both contribute to the feeling the movie was assembled in a hurry, and tiny but important bits of the story were lost. I get that jumping around the universe is part of the story, but this is messy and it causes you to cut your connection to the characters while you try to reorient yourself.

The editing problems lead to problems with pacing. Some scenes feel way too long and you check out before they conclude. A long scene featuring Zach Galifianakis is especially guilty of this. This story doesn’t flow. It staggers along in fits and starts.

While we’re talking flaws, I have to bring up the acting. Reid and Pine are fine. So is McCabe, until his character takes an abrupt turn and he starts behaving like the bad guy in a crumby cartoon. He’s a kid so I don’t want to bag on him too much. But other cast members don’t get off so easily.

Kaling and Witherspoon give one-note “quirky” performances where one character trait defines the entirety of their characters. Winfrey is all warmth, which is inviting. But there are scenes that call for her to be foreboding and she just doesn’t get there. It’s pretty disappointing that three such talented performers offer such forgettable work.

DuVernay focuses on the emotional struggle Meg is going through, and there are scenes where you wish “A Wrinkle in Time” were an instead family drama instead of a fantasy adventure. In those moments, this movie feels special. But as a fantasy epic, “Wrinkle” is too riddled with storytelling potholes and inconsistent acting to succeed.

2 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG