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The Book of Henry

By DAN LYBARGER Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published June 16, 2017 at 1:45 a.m.

The Book of Henry

82 Cast: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler, Tonya Pinkins, Bobby Moynihan

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements and brief strong language

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Yet another film about a gifted youngster who regularly outsmarts the grown-ups in his world, The Book of Henry offers a few moments when the movie is almost as clever as its title character.

In this case, Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher) is so bright he pays all of his mother Susan's (Naomi Watts) bills and even invests her spare change in the stock market. The lad intimidates his peers and stands up for his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay, Room), who is an eternal target for bullies.

Susan is still hurting from the way her husband abandoned her and her sons, and has outsourced most of the actual parenting to the startlingly advanced lad (he prefers the term "precious").

When he's not designing a seemingly endless series of Rube Goldberg contraptions or machines that would make Leonardo da Vinci proud, Henry is warily spying on his classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler). Having read the brochures that most parents throw away, Henry spies a series of telltale signs the girl's dad Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris) is abusing her. She comes to school worn out and sporting bruises.

Henry frantically warns the grown-ups around him, but nobody seems willing to listen to a 12-year-old. This is especially challenging because Sickleman is the local police commissioner, so social workers brush off Henry's concerns.

While Henry is smarter than just about anyone else in his small town, he may be a prisoner of his own vivid imagination and some debilitating migraines. Unable to simply bring Sickleman's alleged abuses to light, he makes plans for neutralizing the potentially crooked lawman with a level of detail one might expect from Nikola Tesla's notebooks.

If the setup is familiar (Gregg Hurwitz's script owes an enormous debt to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window), there are enough quirks in the tale to prevent viewers from feeling that they've gotten ahead of the boy genius.

Actually, Hurwitz and director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) often go a little too far in trying to keep viewers off-kilter. When Susan listens to Henry's cassette tapes, she and he respond to each other as if they were still in the same room. Trevorrow has trouble deciding if his stressed-out characters are frustrated or flat-out insane. At some moments not knowing the mental state of the characters gets suspenseful. In others, it's as if Trevorrow is as confused as Susan.

Having started his career with the nano-bugeted Safety Not Guaranteed, Trevorrow has a knack for getting the best from his performers. It's especially impressive considering most of his characters are under 18. While Sarah Silverman is typically acerbic as Susan's alcoholic co-worker, she and Watts push themselves hard to keep up with the likes of Tremblay, who practically stole Room from Oscar-winning leading lady Brie Larson.

The film's youngsters make the less plausible moments almost convincing. Maybe if Henry had written the script, there would have been more suspense.

MovieStyle on 06/16/2017

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