NO ONE EVER SETS OUT to make a bad movie, but sometimes they happen anyway.
The Lovely Bones is a spectacularly bad movie. It's a film that's so sappy, manipulative, and fundamentally broken that it's nearly impossible to imagine that anyone ever thought making it was a good idea.
But someone did think it was a good idea: Peter Jackson, a guy who's usually pretty good about separating decent ideas from shitty ones. Be it on the macro scale of The Lord of the Rings or the micro scale of Heavenly Creatures, Jackson has an incredible ability to convey both spectacle and intimacy. True, sometimes he misfires, but up until now, it's been impossible to find a film of his that feels as if he isn't in control. But at no point in The Lovely Bones—a film that can accurately be described as a tonal, narrative, and visual clusterfuck—does it feel like Jackson has even the slightest idea what he's doing.
Most of our time in The Lovely Bones is spent alongside Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a 14-year-old girl who, early in the film, is killed by the Most Obvious Pedophile Ever (Stanley Tucci, wearing the standard chimo uniform: skeevy mustache, depressing comb-over, unfortunate sweaters). Susie narrates The Lovely Bones from Heaven, where she watches those she left behind: Her grieving father (Mark Wahlberg) smashes his collection of ships in bottles (so angry!), her mother (Rachel Weisz) goes and picks some fruit somewhere (okay!), the hottie she had a crush on (Reece Ritchie) hangs out at the mall looking solemn, and the Most Obvious Pedophile Ever mops up Susie's blood and starts outlining—as in, literally drawing up the plans for—his next nefarious scheme. Meanwhile, when she's not watching events on Earth, Susie traipses around Heaven—a tacky, Technicolor wonderland that's apparently constructed out of nothing but greenscreen and Yes album covers.
Throughout, The Lovely Bones veers between feeling like a goofy fairy tale and a particularly sordid episode of CSI; on occasion, it's cheesy and nonsensical enough to give Twilight a run for its money. Lisa Frank-inspired imagery aside, shit starts happening in the second half that just doesn't make any sense, though that doesn't stop Jackson from trying to wring emotion out of it all the same.
There is, however, one fantastic thing about The Lovely Bones: Susan Sarandon, as Susie's chain-smoking, booze-guzzling, pill-popping, totally awesome grandma. Alas, Sarandon is only in this thing for like two scenes—and whenever she's not onscreen, Jackson slathers on the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and tosses in various bits of unearned sentiment. Buried somewhere in Susie's maudlin narration, I suspect there's supposed to be some sort of profound message, but the moral of The Lovely Bones ends up being something else entirely: Even though good filmmakers sometimes make terrible movies, that doesn't mean anyone has to see them. (Well, except for me. I had to see it. But you don't.)