xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
"Nicholas Nickleby" was the third novel by Charles Dickens, following "The Pickwick Papers" and "Oliver Twist," and sharing with them a riot of colorful characters. One of them, the sadistic boarding school proprietor Wackford Squeers, was a portrait taken so much from life that it resulted in laws being passed to reform the private education industry. The novel followed a familiar Dickens pattern--a young man sets out in the world to win fortune and love despite a rogue's gallery of villains. It contained characters improbably good or despicable, and with admirable economy tied together several of the key characters in a web of melodramatic coincidences. It is not placed in the first rank of Dickens' art, but I would place it near the top for sheer readability.
The new film version by Douglas McGrath, who made "Emma" (1996), is much more reasonable than the 1980 nine-hour stage version of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which I have on laserdisk and really mean to get to one of these days. The movie is jolly and exciting and brimming with life, and wonderfully well-acted. McGrath has done some serious pruning, but the result does not seem too diluted; there is room for expansive consideration of such essential characters as Nicholas' vindictive uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer), secretly undermined by his dipsomaniac and disloyal servant Newman Noggs (Tom Courtenay). The movie gives full screen time to Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent, looking curiously Churchillian) and his wife (Juliet Stevenson)--and hints that psychosexual pathology inspired their mistreatment of students. Their most pathetic target, Smike (Jamie Bell, who played the title role in "Billy Elliot"), is seen as less of a caricature and more of a real victim.
To balance the scales are two of the happiest comic couples Dickens ever created: the touring theatricals Vincent and Mrs. Crummles (Nathan Lane and Barry Humphries) and the brothers Cheeryble (Timothy Spall and Gerald Horan). The Crummles rescue Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) after his escape from the Squeers school, turn him into an actor, and even find talent in the hapless Smike. Their touring company is a loving exaggeration of companies Dickens must have worked with, and is rich with such inspirations as their aging and expanding daughter the Child Phenomenon. Humphries uses his alter ego, Dame Edna Everage, to play Mrs. Crummles, and if you look closely you will notice Humphries as a man, playing opposite the formidable Dame.
The Cheerybles are the lawyer brothers who agree on everything, especially that Nicholas must be hired in their firm, all of his problems solved, and his romantic future secured through a liaison with Madeline Bray (Anne Hathaway), whose tyrannical father has long ruled her life. It is particularly good to see Spall nodding and smiling as brother Charles, after seeing him so depressed in role after role.