Rating: 3 out of 5.

In the time since the Harry Potter series began, countless imitators and outright copycats emerged in an attempt to emulate its tone and style. Few, if any, survived. The newest in a long line of these types of films is entitled The Portable Door, based on the seven-book series written by Tom Holt. A brief perusal of the themes and storylines present in the books would seem to promise a preposterous, fantastic world focused more on biting British humor than magic battles. A flagrantly Australian production from top to bottom, The Portable Door is written by Leon Ford, and directed by Jeffrey Walker. Despite what it may appear to present on a surface level, The Portable Door comes close to the tone of middle-tier Harry Potter installments—both for better and for worse.

Our central character, Paul (Patrick Gibson), is the swirling central focus of this franchise hopeful. In the lead-up to his job interview with the mysterious J.W. Wells & Co., everything that can go wrong does. His toaster self-destructs, and Paul seems to be running hopelessly late. However, when he arrives, there is something off. No one is able to tell Paul what exactly goes on here beyond “we do what we can.” Despite knowing literally nothing about what the company will offer him, Paul goes before a board and pleads his case. Behind on rent, single, and currently “between employment,” Paul happily accepts a paid internship with J.W. Wells & Co.—how difficult could the job really be working for “the most innovative company in history?”

Middle manager Dennis Tanner (Sam Neill) refers to both Paul and his fellow intern, Sophie (Sophie Wilde), as scum: “the lowest of the low.” He appears convinced that Paul will never make it there long term, despite senior partner Humphrey Wells (Christoph Waltz) taking an obvious liking to Paul and his talents. Wells charges Paul with locating a vital item that he has misplaced, insisting that Paul has a gift hand-delivered by fate. The item, which just so happens to be the titular “portable door” itself, has the power to transport the user wherever they wish to go, so long as they knock and announce their required destination ahead of time. Obviously, this door becomes an important piece of the puzzle, but its overall relevance to the story never feels quite as important as one would expect.

Strangely enough, the film reveals ahead of time in the trailer and plot description that both Tanner and Wells are the villains of the movie, despite their true nature being relatively hidden within the movie itself. As such, I knew the true intentions of both characters well before either are outwardly revealed to Paul or Sophie. Waltz chews up the scenery, as he has in every such villainous role of his career thus far; it brought me a strange sort of joy to see him filling out a contract fresh off his icy turn in underrated Prime Video series The Consultant. Sam Neill is similarly excellent, as he rattles off nasty comments and sports impressive Goblin makeup, courtesy of the geniuses over at The Jim Henson Company.

As Paul and Sophie race to uncover the nefarious goings-on at J.W. Wells & Co., I kept waiting for something to wow me. As much fun as the initial setup was, if indeed The Portable Door becomes sequelized, the series will be in need of some massive improvements to step out of the veritable Harry Potter shadow. A final act crams in as much action as possible, and begins to lose a bit of its admittedly contagious charms. While I cannot say how close this sticks to the books, The Portable Door is nevertheless an enjoyable faux-fantasy movie with charming characters. It never overstays its welcome, which is perhaps a small marvel in itself. If remembered for any specific facet, The Portable Door does at least have the best use of Thurston Harris classic “Little Bitty Pretty One” since 1996’s Matilda.

The Portable Door opens up a new world of magic for audiences everywhere when it premieres exclusively to MGM+ on Saturday, April 8th.

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