It's not that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second of J.K. Rowling's Potter novels to hit the screen, is a bad movie. It's an improvement on the first. The young actors — Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Emma Watson as Hermione — exude a new ease. There's a more exciting game of Quidditch. And Kenneth Branagh preens evilly as new Hogwarts prof Gilderoy Lockhart. But once again, director Chris Columbus takes a hat-in-hand approach to Rowling that stifles creativity and allows the film to drag on for nearly three hours.
Hit delete on Dobby, a computer-generated elf with a voice more jarring than Jar Jar's. Among the creatures (spiders, mandrakes, a giant snake), only the spiders truly scare. A top Brit cast doles out exposition that only the late Richard Harris manages with poetic elegance.
For the next Potter film, Columbus will be replaced by Alfonso Cuaron, the Mexican director of the lyrically sexy Y Tu Mama Tambien. Brats and skittish parents may freak out, but I can't wait.