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More than 30 years ago, Woody Allen wrote "The Kugelmass Episode," a brilliantly funny short story in which Sidney Kugelmass, a dissatisfied humanities professor, magically transports himself into Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" and has an affair with the title character. "Who is this character on page 100?" readers everywhere begin wondering. "A bald Jew is kissing Madame Bovary?"

"Inkheart," based on the fantasy book by Cornelia Funke and directed by Iain Softley, also blurs the line between life and art. But where Allen took his whimsy seriously, thinking through every detail, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire leaves many a loose end untied. And although the film raises some heady questions - about free will, destiny, character - they go mostly unanswered.

"Inkheart" also serves as the title of a book-within-the-movie that Mortimer Folchart ( Brendan Fraser) reads to his daughter, Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett). This is the first time Mortimer realizes he's a "Silvertongue" who brings fictional characters to life when reading aloud. Unfortunately, he also sends a real-world person into each book. So when various villains land in Mortimer's living room, his wife, Resa (Sienna Guillory), disappears into "Inkheart" even as it's flung into the fireplace. Thus begins Mortimer's 12-year journey through the world's book shops to find another copy and rescue Resa.

The film is filled with entertaining if broadly drawn personalities, including the smug villain Capricorn (Andy Serkis), an eccentric aunt (Helen Mirren) and the daffy author of "Inkheart" itself ( Jim Broadbent). But it's the flawed hero Dustfinger (an excellent Paul Bettany) who, although fictional, seems the most human.

But wait: Did Mortimer never bring, say, a Dr. Seuss character to life as a youth? Why didn't he track down the author of "Inkheart" 12 years ago? Has the book's text changed at all? Maybe if we open a copy of "Madame Bovary," we can get some answers from Kugelmass.

Rated PG

PLOT Fiction becomes reality when a man discovers he can bring literary characters to life.

CAST Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren.


PLAYING AT Showtimes and tickets at area theaters

BOTTOM LINE Entertaining enough for young teens, but a little more thought could have made it appealing to adults as well.

Brendan Fraser's $100 million flicks

Fraser has had five movies that have grossed more than $100 million at the box office. Sorry to disappoint you, but " Encino Man" and "Blast from the Past" didn't make the cut.

1) The Mummy Returns (2001): $202,019,785

2) The Mummy (1999): $155,385,488

3) George of the Jungle (1997): $105,263,257

4) The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008): $102,491,776

5) Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008): $101,704,370


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