The Book of Henry, C-
Rated PG-13, 105 minutes
"The Book of Henry" has a good heart, but it's still a noble mess. With a talented cast, the sluggish, highly manipulative film has some real identity problems: it's part gifted child dramedy, part maudlin sick child drama and part crime drama.
In a small suburban town, a precocious 11-year-old boy named Henry Carpenter ("Midnight Special's" Jaden Liebherer), and his younger brother, Peter ("Room's" Jacob Tremblay), are being raised by their single mother, Susan (Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts), who works as a waitress. Henry has a crush on their next-door neighbor Christina Sickleman (dancer Maddie Ziegler in her film debut), a girl around his age, who is the stepdaughter of the police commissioner ("Breaking Bad's" Dean Norris). To protect Christina from harm at the hands of her abusive stepfather, Glenn, Henry comes up with a plan to rescue her that he writes in a book. Henry's mother discovers the book and decides that she and Peter will put Henry's scheme into motion.
"The Book of Henry" is an ambitious, well-intentioned misfire, with a script that goes all over the place, with some significant changes in tone from one act to the other. Directed by "Jurassic World's" Colin Trevorrow and written by crime novelist Gregg Hurwitz, most of it is pure hogwash, though with all its flaws (which is most of the film), it has a handful of good qualities, too. The first act is the best and most charming, a likable role-reversal dramedy that has Henry paying the bills while Mom tries to keep down a job and plays video games.
Then those awful second and third acts that could've been lifted from any TV special or episode of "Criminal Minds," and it's unfortunate that writer Hurwitz tends to dwell here; it's even worse that Mom is drawn into this scheme to help her son finds some sort of meaning in life and helping others. "Henry" could've been a light-hearted dramedy, but it turns dark in sort of a miniature, gifted vigilante flick like the 1970' saw with Charles Bronson and "Death Wish."
Smart can people can do some really dumb things, and "The Book of Henry," has an ill, smart kid at the center who does some really dumb things when he takes things into his own hands. Some may find it even touching as the family bonds over trying to kill someone, but I think it's exceptionally awkward and uncomfortable. If you choose to see this, wait and waste your money over a rental than seeing it in theaters.