Usually before a director takes on a tentpole project, one likes to stay sharp by tackling a smaller feature that doesn’t come attached with expectations. Colin Trevorrow, the director responsible for Jurassic World, has followed suit with a project that, without having seen nothing more than its trailer, is all over the place. The Book of Henry, which stars Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Dean Norris, Maddie Ziegler, Sarah Silverman and Lee Pace, is a drama written by Gregg Hurwitz that could go down as the best worst film of 2017.

The most apt word one could use to describe Trevorrow’s latest is odd. It’s odd in that he and Hurwitz try desperately to combine two genres. It begins as an offbeat family dramedy, in which Lieberher is Henry, a child genius who swaps roles with his irresponsible mother, Susan (Watts). Henry is the caretaker, tending to the family’s finances, using the payphone (payphone?!?!?!) outside his school to make investment after investment, thus securing the financial futures for himself, Susan and his baby brother, Peter (Tremblay). Susan is the child, and uses her free time to drink, play video games and bake a lot of desserts.

While juggling school and family, Henry pays close attention to his classmate and neighbor, Christina (Ziegler), who shows symptoms of abuse by her stepfather, police commissioner Glenn (Norris). This subplot eventually becomes the main storyline as Henry conjures up a near-flawless plan to implicate Glenn and save Christina in the process. But almost out of nowhere, a major twist unfolds, and Book ceases to be a dramedy.

At the least, I have to applaud Trevorrow for taking big swings. After the success of Jurassic World, he must feel confident - definitely confident to helm Book. The Book of Henry is a complex mixture of genres and themes. Yet it still needs to be entertaining and interesting if any of this is to work. My curiosity got the best of me and, despite Trevorrow’s epic aspirations, it seems my passing interest failed me. Book tries to hit all emotional points – its trite, yet promising start is interrupted by a nearly unforeseen and cold twist which opens the door for a dark, revenge-like thriller that does little to evoke emotion from audiences and instead invites viewers to pine for more consistent and convincing thrillers.

Because of that, Watts, despite her confident acting, wastes her time. She’s built up to be weak-willed and too reliant upon her eldest son to pull off what’s asked of her during the Book’s final third. There is one task which Susan is asked to accomplish which falls in line with her personality and story arc from the first act, but her build up in the second act (which almost forces her to become someone else) is undermined. The constant changes stunt any momentum and are inconsistent enough to turn off viewers.

The Book of Henry would be more successful if the themes established in the first act continued throughout, of if the Christine child-abuse storyline began as the main plot. No matter how you view Trevorrow’s latest, it felt as if separate films were edited together to make one messy story. There’s no cohesion, plotholes are obvious, and there’s no one character for audiences to identify with. Well, there actually is one, but that character isn’t around long enough. In addition, there are throwaway characters, which include Pace’s Dr. David Daniels and Silverman’s Sheila. The latter character, though, seems to fit right in with the lighter tones Trevorrow tried to establish early on.

Ultimately, the big problem with Book is the characters themselves. They are just that – characters. They’re not actual people; they are caricatures who would never act in the real world like they did on screen. If one comes in knowing that, Book works better, but its failures are too great to serve as entertainment and its message is too hollow to serve as a cautionary tale. The Book of Henry is around merely for Trevorrow to stay sharp as he prepares to direct the currently-untitled ninth Star Wars film. But with an effort like this, is he even the right choice at this point?

2 stars out of 5

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