February 18, 2010

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (PG)
Another children’s book franchise attempts to capture that Harry Potter magic (and by “magic” I mean “giant sacks of cash”) in the lamely unmagical Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is just your average cheesed-off teenager who learns that all his life he’s had a secret identity (sigh, who doesn’t?). Turns out he’s a demi-god, the son of absent father Poseidon (Kevin McKidd — didn’t Lucius Vorenus once claim he was the son of Hades?), and is thus at danger when Uncle Zeus’ (Sean Bean) lightning bolt goes missing and it is suspected he, Percy, is the thief. Baddies — Medusa (Uma Thurman), a Fury, a Minotaur, Hades (Steve Coogan) — come looking for the powerful bolt and Zeus demands that if it is not returned in a few days there will be war.

To protect Percy from all the mythical things that are hot on his trail, his mom (Catherine Keener) takes him to Camp Half Blood, a training ground for the progeny of the gods. There, along with his friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), his protector who is half goat, and Annabeth (Alexandria Daddario), the itching-for-a-fight daughter of Athena, he constructs a plan to rescue his mom from Hades, who kidnaps her in hopes of getting Percy to give him the lightning bolt.

Fun is there for the taking when you tap into the wacky mythology of the Greek gods. See, for example, Battlestar Galactica. Or Rome. Or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The gods had kinky romantic liaisons with all kinds of people, producing all kinds of weird offspring. (Offspring that, like Percy and Annabeth, might be attracted to each other but are also technically related — something the movie ignores.) But Percy Jackson mines this hodgepodge of superpowers and personality flaws very little. It sets up its characters and then launches straight into a “quip, action scene, quip, PG joke about sex, action scene, quip” rhythm, only occasionally bothering to do anything interesting with its story. And unlike the Harry Potter saga this movie so badly wants to be, it doesn’t give us a chance to get to know its main characters in any significant ways. They are superpowers and “son of”s but nothing more. The adults are almost entirely their costumes — once you’ve seen Thurman’s head of snakes you’ve seen her whole performance. The youngsters on the cast might be decent actors but they are given so little to do that you wouldn’t know.

The Lightning Thief is set up as though it could be the first in a series. But nothing in this movie makes you care about these characters, their world or the possibility of a next chapter. C-

Rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language. Directed by Chris Columbus and written by Craig Titley (from the novel by Rick Riordan), Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is two hours long and distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox