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‘The Dark Tower’ review: Incoherent to all but Stephen King fans

The long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King's fantasy-Western series of novels arrives on the big screen, with Idris Elba as Roland "The Gunslinger" Deschain and Matthew McConaughey as the fearsome Man in Black (Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

PLOT A gunslinger must stop an evil force from destroying the universe.

CAST Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey

RATED PG-13 (violence and gruesome imagery)

LENGTH 1:35

BOTTOM LINE Only rabid fans of the Stephen King novels will be able to follow this incoherent adaptation.

“The Dark Tower,” Stephen King’s eight-volume series about a futuristic gunslinger, a time-traveling teenager named Jake and the personification of death — named Walter — is the kind of concoction that never would have made it to print without King’s track record of bestsellers-cum-Hollywood-hits like “The Shining,” “Carrie” and “Firestarter.” A free-associative epic that brings in elements of fantasy, science fiction and cowboy mythology, “The Dark Tower” is King’s version of “Ulysses” or “Gravity’s Rainbow,” a work of hugely complicated symbolism that, in the end, will always resonate most strongly for its author.

Those readers who have followed King down his 4,000-page rabbit hole will probably be the only folks patient enough to sit through Nikolaj Arcel’s 95-minute cinematic abridgment. Despite two fine actors in key roles, and the efforts of a four-man screenwriting team to strip King’s story down to its basics, “The Dark Tower” still makes virtually no sense, even by the rules of its own world(s).

It’s never explained, for instance, why a gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), would be roaming a post-apocalyptic world that resembles Earth. Why is it Roland’s job to stop Walter O’Dim, otherwise known as The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), from destroying The Dark Tower that holds the universe together? Why does all of this unfold in the dreams of a modern-day New York City teen, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor)? And who invented the portals that allow Jake to travel between worlds (or eras)?

There is only one answer, which is that King thought these ideas were cool. And because this movie can’t explain it any better than that, here is where the die-hard fan and the casual moviegoer must part ways. Not everyone will be willing to sit through all of this simply because someone bothered to create it.

Whenever “The Dark Tower” nearly gets away with its absurdities, it’s usually because of McConaughey’s Man in Black. A flippant force of evil who barely even bothers to enjoy his victims’ suffering, he is definitely a villain you can hate. That’s a little something to cling to. Otherwise, “The Dark Tower” feels like a long walk through someone else’s illogical dream-world — and it’s not even clear you are wanted there.

4 ‘Towering’ flicks that hit the heights

Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” is finally hitting theaters, though it may be a tall order for the film to match the horror master’s series of novels. Likewise, how well will it measure up to these other cinematic “Towers”?

TOWER OF LONDON (1939) — Boris Karloff killed it as Mord, the clubfooted executioner at the British landmark helping Richard Duke of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone) eliminate everyone standing between him and the throne. Also in the cast was Vincent Price — who starred in the 1962 remake — as the Duke of Clarence.

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) — The disaster flick about a massive fire within a San Francisco skyscraper was a red-hot hit, thanks in large part to its all-star cast, which included Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway and Oscar nominee Fred Astaire.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (2002) — The second film in the Tolkien trilogy had Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) teaming up with Gollum (Andy Serkis) on their journey toward Mordor as the fellowship fights the evil Saruman (Christopher Lee).

TOWER (2016) — Keith Maitland’s unusual documentary blended animation, testimony and archival footage in examining the 1966 incident in which 16 people were killed after a sniper opened fire from the University of Texas clock tower.

— Daniel Bubbeo

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