*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Jim Broadbent
screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
directed by David Yates
by Walter Chaw It's easily worse than Mike Newell's go at The Goblet of Fire, and it's satisfying to note that it fails for many of the same reasons. For all the gorgeously-decayed gothic architecture, the German Expressionism, the bleached colour palette, etc., Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (hereafter Harry Potter 6) isn't the moody requiem before the bloody mass of parts 7 and 7a in the next couple of years, but instead this ungainly tween romcom with a sudden horde of amphibious zombies (not unlike the aquatic sequence in Harry Potter 4), inexplicable cameos from Ursa, Non, and Zod, and silly broomstick rugby. Dark undercurrents? No question. But they're allowed to wither as the film focuses its attention on three non-professional actors doing their best to transform ridiculous, sweet-sixteen romantic imbroglios into Chekhov and Shakespeare, with the combined might of what seems the entire pantheon of great modern British movie actors milling around behind them. The problem isn't that the film is character driven; the problem is that the characters' problems are insipid. Gone is the intense, sticky, stunningly emotional father issues tackled by Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban--the first real hint that this series could become the grown-up artifact the books never quite will given their much-publicized "meh" denouement. Gone is the continuation of that unsolvable Oedipal complexity that arose when the father figures were revealed as less than godlike in Yates's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the best film of the series by a nose--and one of the best American films of that year). In their place is a lot of insufferable slapstick carried off by actors no one would assume capable of screwball in environments better suited to Hammer. horrors: it's "Abbott & Costello Meet the Dementors."