How many movies list a snake wrangler as one of its crew members?
"The Maze Runner", shot on location in Louisiana, does just that. He ensured the safety of all the actors, and others involved in the production.
Based on the best-selling novels by James Dashner, a colony of boys is trapped inside a valley-like environment called The Glade, surrounded by giant 100-foot concrete walls. The walls that were constructed on site were actually 16 feet high, but made to look 100 feet tall with digital effects.
None of the boys have a clue why they are there, or for that matter, who they are, other than their names. The only possible means of escape is through a vast maze which is accessible once a day through an opening in the walls.
The most athletic of the Glade's inhabitants are designated "Runners" whose job it is to solve the riddle of the maze and find a way out. But major obstacles make this an impossible task. The maze changes its shape every night, accompanied by eerie sound effects, and it is guarded by fearsome mechanical creatures called Grievers --- think common crabs with metal arms for mobility that sting with a deadly substance.
However, when a new Glader named Thomas (Dylan O'Brien from TV's "Teen Wolf") shows up --- every 30 days a new boy appears via a strange elevator --- he is immediately curious and daring, and soon becomes a Runner. Outside of a spectacular sequence where Thomas and fellow Runner Minho (Ki Hong Lee) must return to the Glade by outracing the fast-closing entry doors, nothing much happens. Until, that is, the elevator arrives early, and with it, the first girl in the Glade. She is Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), unconscious but clutching a mysterious note.
"The Maze Runner" earns high marks for production design (Marc Fisichella) and original music (John Paesano). It is reasonably entertaining, but could have been trimmed by 10 minutes at the expense of seeing less of the Grievers.
The acting by most of the cast is marginal, at best. Will Poulter plays Gally, a defiant long-term Glader --- he's been there for almost the entire three years --- who is relentlessly serious about maintaining the status quo of the Glade, rather than risk looking for an escape. Poulter, who was deadpan funny in last year's "We're The Millers" opposite Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston, is unfortunately guilty here of hamming it up.
Nevertheless, the special effects and the mystery of their surroundings are sufficient for sustaining interest. We know how the boys and girl got there, but we don't know the "why" until the very end.
The film could have made a decent Disney movie on TV, but really needs to be seen on the big screen. Surprisingly, "The Maze Runner" was not shot in 3-D, yet it seems a viable candidate for it. And in case you were wondering --- fans of the books will figure this out --- there are two sequels planned.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!