Young London loser Paul Carpenter (Patrick Gibson of The OA and Tolkien movies) is desperate for a job and is in a hurry for an interview to get a job as a salesman at some diner. But as a result of a series of ridiculous accidents (which, as we immediately understand, are not at all accidental), he ends up at an interview in a completely different place – at the J. W. Wells and Co., which I had never even heard of before. A dumbfounded Paul fails the interview with a bang, but, much to his surprise, receives an invitation to work. The next day, he takes up the position of junior clerk, having no idea what he has to do.
And he has some very interesting things to do. Since ancient times J. W. Wells & Co. provides humanity with a sort of magical tutelage. With the help of clairvoyance, penetration into dreams and other magic, the company manages chance, organizes wonderful coincidences, inspires people with ideas and desires. The scope of activities is wide: the company helps to fall in love, get divorced, make scientific discoveries and land on the moon. Paul appears in the organization at a difficult moment – the company is in a clear crisis. Everyone behaves strangely, speaks in omissions and in an undertone commemorates the missing former director John Wells (Christoph Waltz, known for the films Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained) – the father of the current director Humphrey Wells (also Christoph Waltz).
The Bureau of Magical Services is a film adaptation of the fantasy comedy by British writer Tom Holt. Portable Door (as the film is originally called) is the first of seven books about J. W. Wells & Co.” So, if the creators are planning to launch a new movie franchise, they still have a lot of material. The idea is indeed interesting: to take the age-old question of freedom and determinism and ironically interpret it in a conspiratorial vein. Of course, nothing happens by itself. Everything is controlled by a secret organization consisting of magicians and goblins. Moreover, the control center is, of course, in London – because where else? Any conspiracy theorist will tell you that.
Along the way, this film, which is not alien to socio-political satire, also touches on other topics that disturb modern man. Data collection (“J. W. Wells & Co.” watches everyone and knows everything about everyone). Formation of needs (How do marketers do this? Clearly, it cannot do without witchcraft). Texts in small print in contracts that no one reads, but in vain: any user agreement may well turn out to be a deal with the devil.
Paul, who doesn’t understand anything, rushes about in confusion over J. W. Wells and Co., which is both Hogwarts and a grotesque corporation from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Pneumomail, dot-matrix printers and clerks busily scurrying about with papers side by side with gloomy closets, magical artifacts and warty goblins loitering around dark corners.
Australian director Jeffrey Walker (known for the comedy television series “Young Rock”), along with screenwriter Leon Ford (known for playing Tom Diskin in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis”) immerse the viewer in the atmosphere of a mysterious and cheerful mess, puzzled with new oddities in each new scene, riddles and grotesque images.
Another thing is that, creating all this chaos, the authors themselves get lost in it: the artistic elements here are not very willing to form a single structure and rather exist in an autonomous mode. Because of the sloppily thought out plot (the same claim, however, can be addressed to the literary source), the film simply lacks dramatic tension. The authors seem to be trying to lead an action-packed story where you have to worry about the hero. But you really care about him only at the beginning, when he talks nonsense at the interview and confuses Anton Chekhov with the namesake from Star Trek – a truly heartbreaking scene.
These shortcomings are largely compensated by a cheerful eccentric – in fact, the “Bureau of Magical Services” is a peppy skit with good artists, each of whom fools around to the best of his inclinations. Irish actor Patrick Gibson looks like a budget version of Tom Holland, whom he looks like and whose awkward charm he successfully borrows for his character. Rachel House (famous for Thor: Ragnarok) stares carnivorously, calls the hero a “pumpkin” and moves the hair of the Gorgon Medusa. Chris Pang (known for “Hanging in Palm Springs” and more recently “Charlie’s Angels”) appears to Paul in his sleep, and this is one of the film’s wittiest scenes. Everyone, except for poor Paul, juggles unpredictably with intonations and it is not known what will be thrown out in a second.
The main burden in terms of eccentricity falls on the shoulders of Christoph Waltz and Sam Neill (known from the films Jurassic Park and Bicentennial Man) – for the first this is a familiar matter, for the second not so much. It makes it all the more ridiculous to watch how the star of “Jurassic Park” steals every scene with his unimaginable antics, overshadowing even the always flawless Waltz.
If the picture didn’t do well as a fantasy story, at least director Walker turned out to be a really nice comedy – with funny dialogues, spectacular acting, love for the absurd. And that naive enthusiasm, which most often disappears somewhere in more expensive and accurate productions.
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