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Slack Magic 

Some unseen force in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets turns the students of Hogwarts into petrified stone. Funny how life imitates art. This boring and utterly conventional second installment will surely fossilize you where you sit.

It's not as though the series got off to an auspicious beginning. Helmed by Chris Columbus (whose previous idea of "heart" can be seen in Mrs. Doubtfire), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was devoid of much of the book's magical charm; that's not a perception problem Columbus rectified before Chamber of Secrets. The blame doesn't lie with author J.K. Rowling; each of her books is more inventive and enchanting than the last. Maybe the blame doesn't even lie with Columbus: it could be that the Potter page-turners are simply not screen-adaptation material. More likely, so much time is spent on how everything looks that no one is tending to how any of it feels.

Of course, it would help if the child actors didn't spend so much time mugging for the camera. Emma Watson's Hermione is so annoyingly affected that her ultimate calcification is a welcome relief. Daniel Radcliffe does not even approach Potter's impish appeal. And Rupert Grint plays Ron Weasley like a snivelling baby. (The real Harry Potter would hate these kids.)

And so it is left to the adults to carry the film, a role they admirably take on but a set-up destined to fail. Even the late legendary Richard Harris and a nice turn by the ever-pompous Kenneth Branagh (as the ever-pompous Gilderoy Lockhart) can't save this one. What if Dee Wallace-Stone and Peter Coyote had been the only capable performers in E.T.?

All these flaws manage to make Chamber of Secrets virtually unwatchable. The only thing anyone who hasn't read the book needs to know about the plot is that there is two hours and 50 minutes of it. Time better spent curled up with Rowling's original works.

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