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Sight For Sword Eyes: Daniel Radcliffe takes up arms in the new Harry Potter movie.

Chamber Made

There are no real secrets in 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'

By Richard von Busack

LIKE Spy Kids 2, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets isn't really meant to be consumed on a large screen. Though every two out of three kids in America will turn up for the opening, the real watching and rewatching will begin in earnest when the film is released on video and DVD a year from now. Thus, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is relentlessly packed with roller-coaster sequences, animated spiders and snakes. Part of the appeal of English boarding school movies is the idea of luxury and exclusivity--of lounging around the solitude of ancient stones. But this sequel to last year's hit, made by raised-in-Sunnyvale writer Steve Kloves and director Chris Columbus, is desperate to top the last one. And so the film hustles you through Hogwarts like a tour guide with an eye on the clock.

In this number, young Master Potter (sweet, bland Daniel Radcliffe) is rescued from his horrible aunt and uncle (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths again) and returned to the magic boarding school where he spent his last term. But this time, Harry is blocked by a cringing computer-animated house elf named Dobby--Jar Jar Binks' more obsequious cousin, complete with wiggling ears. When he gets to school, there's a new instructor, the ridiculously inept and full of himself Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh)--and an encounter with Harry's nemesis, Draco (Tom Felton), and his equally supercilious father, Lucius (Jason Isaacs). Harry has to thwart an ancient force, connected to a prophecy of doom for Hogwarts; it's roaming at will, paralyzing the students. Under suspicion is not just the hairy giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) but Harry himself, since his ancestry may be connected to the most unsavory of Hogwarts' four founders.

Like the Star Wars opus, the adventures are superficially democratic, but they also have a strong faith in the importance of good breeding. More importantly, this episode follows the points of the first Harry Potter film much too closely, from debate over the boy's parentage, spells that go wrong, a trip to a forbidden dungeon of Hogwarts, a monster and the final scene of applause in the dining hall. The lesser tricks seem to have the most magic: like a flying automobile that's a bit of a clunker (it chugs as it flies), a diary that writes itself and a joke about the old superstition of the fatal scream of the mandrake root, which here is warded off by some cozy English gardening tips.

But this is a second go-round and looks it. The mystery isn't well wrought. It's never clear whether the evil haunting Hogwarts is ancient or really only 50 years old. We can never really suspect Harry of wrongdoing, and maybe we should (it's the smooth-faced ones you have to look out for). While there's a jolt every 10 minutes, the film's nearly three hours long, which works against the thrill of spotting celebrated English actors--like a self-pitying lavatory ghost played by the silky voiced Shirley Henderson. Many who are old enough to wear wristwatches will be consulting them. Sure, I'm glad your kid liked it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (PG; 161 min.), directed by Chris Columbus, written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling, photographed by Roger Pratt and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Jason Isaacs and Robbie Coltrane, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide

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From the November 14-20, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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