Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

Genre: Family fantasy

Opens: Nov. 15

The Pitch: In this sequel, schoolboy sorcerer Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) might lose his adopted home if a series of magical attacks causes Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to close down.

Money shots: Ron (Rupert Grint) and Harry's flying car is attacked by a Whomping Willow tree in a scene reminiscent of Jurassic Park. Harry and Ron flee giant spiders in a scene reminiscent of Eight Legged Freaks. Harry battles a huge, vision-impaired monster in a climax reminiscent of Jurassic Park, though in a different way.

Body count: Fatalities are low, as the sinister interloper turns its victims into statues. But that doesn't include the film's population of ghosts -- like John Cleese's Nearly Headless Nick.

Comic relief: The Dursleys, Harry's Muggle (i.e. nonmagical) family, remain stubbornly unfunny. Ditto for Dobby, a masochistic "house elf" rendered in computer graphics. But Kenneth Branagh's fatuous professor Gilderoy Lockhart gets laughs with every appearance.

Bathroom humor: Several sequences take place in a ladies lavatory, haunted by a squeaky-voiced spirit named Moaning Myrtle. Herbology class features a subtle double entendre in the line, "Grasp your mandrakes."

Kid-friendly?: It's definitely not for young tots, unless they have a high tolerance for spiders, snakes, cat blood and characters spitting up slugs.

Cast of thousands: With all the regulars back from the first one and plenty more new faces, the film has more characters than it knows what to do with. Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman and the late Richard Harris all are sadly underused.

And The Moral Is: There's a persistent message against racism and white supremacy: The tediously evil, Aryan-looking Malfoys advocate for "pureblood" magic users, while Dobby protests the enslavement of house elves.

Hidden joke: A last bit of comedy takes place after the closing credits.

Better than the first one? No. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, also directed by Chris Columbus, found much more narrative momentum in Harry's discovery of the magical world and his place in it. Chamber of Secrets instead plays like an overlong Hardy Boys story set in Disney World's Haunted Mansion.

The Bottom Line: The good gags and exciting moments can't compensate for a prolonged, slack storyline. It could be called Harry Potter and the Chamber of Exposition, or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Repetition.


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