What It’s About: Overwrought and undercooked, “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax” is a meandering mess of a novel-to-film adaptation.
Based on Liz Jensen’s 2004 novel, Louis is a precocious 9-year-old who has suffered eight previous near-fatal injuries and illnesses. Hospitalized in a coma after a fall, Louis tells about his life in flashback, including his behavioral issues that had him under the care of a psychiatrist (Oliver Platt).
Staff psychologist Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan), a brain trauma specialist, is assigned to the case. He becomes infatuated with Louis’ beautiful and fragile mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) — but he’s married, and there’s that pesky professional conduct standard, too. Her husband Peter (Aaron Paul) has vanished. The plot thickens! Cue the violins.
Trouble is telegraphed loudly as the actors flail about in this pretentious, preposterous and disturbing mystery-drama.
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Performances: Dornan (“Fifty Shades of Gray”) acts like a regular on “General Hospital,” and his character never feels plausible as twists are revealed.
Gadon, a ravishing beauty and rising star (“Indignation”), must transform from an overprotective mom beset with marriage woes into a blonde goddess femme fatale with tricks up her sleeve. This left-field film noir move allows us to figure out the ending quickly.
Poor Aaron Paul. Three-time Emmy winner has had a lackluster movie record since “Breaking Bad” ended. “Exodus: Of God and Kings,” and the sorry list goes on, not including “Eye in the Sky” though. Paul is actually believable here as a flawed but earnest stepfather who truly cares for Louis — and does what he can with a small supporting role.
Aiden Longworth starts out strong as Louis but by the finale, he’s annoying.
What Works: Scenes between Louis and both his child psychiatrist and stepfather Peter are emotionally honest, thanks to the acting strengths of Platt and Paul.
What Doesn’t Work: But the descent into turgid forbidden romance ultimately derails the focus of Max Minghella’s screenplay, relying on a soap opera-style narrative.
Director Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes”) attempts to infuse mystery into this fantasy-reality hybrid, but can’t decide on a steady tone or style.
Moving the location from Paris to San Francisco bay area seems like a desperate ploy to mimic Hitchcock, blonde actress and copycat musical score included.
But “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax” is a pale imitation, a dreary slog through family melodrama without anything interesting to say.
“The Ninth Life of Louis Drax”
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon, Aiden Longworth, Aaron Paul, Oliver Platt and Barbara Hershey.
Rated: R for some disturbing images and brief strong language.