Radcliffe Loses His Magic Touch

Friday, September 21, 2007

Obviously, not all of us got to see Daniel Radcliffe earlier this year without his Harry Potter -- or, in fact, any -- garments on the London stage. (He starred in the buff in Peter Shaffer's "Equus.") But "December Boys," a movie set in 1960s Australia, gives us the chance to see if he's anything more than a one-trick wizard.

The verdict? As a 17-year-old orphan in this coming-of-age drama, he acquits himself well, though no one will mistake him for Marlon Brando.

He plays the oldest of four orphaned boys dispatched one summer to a seaside cottage for a vacation. The movie, directed by Rod Hardy, is an episodic affair that follows all-too-familiar cliches, including the alluring local girl (Teresa Palmer) who exists purely as a sexual usher to manhood; the older woman next door (Victoria Hill) who undresses before open windows; and sweeping, music-laden shots of That Long Ago Unforgettable Place Where I Learned About Life. "December Boys" even forces out a Catholic confession session, with the kids telling all to a priest.

Unfortunately, this texturally uneven movie, which doesn't know whether to emphasize the innocent charm of its central narrator, Misty (played as a boy by Lee Cormie), or the sweaty sexual evolution of Maps (Radcliffe), would never even get to the United States but for Radcliffe's marquee appeal. The responsibility is ultimately too much. Radcliffe is good at showing vulnerability but without the skills to give it gradation. The magic doesn't work for him this time.

-- Desson Thomson

December Boys PG-13, 105 minutes Contains nudity, teenage smoking and profanity. At AMC Loews Dupont.

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