News Column

REVIEW: 'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones'

August 21, 2013


Aug. 21--Tedious when it should be thrilling and feeling like a rip-off of other better ideas when it should be original, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is the latest young-adult fantasy series of books turned into a film turned into a complete mess.

This is a gooey glop of goofiness that only 12-year-old girls who think love triangles are the height of originality and women who consider romance novels to be nonfiction could embrace it for its teen heroine and taut young boys in even tighter leather outfits who hunt demons in an alternate-reality New York.

But the girl is no Katniss Everdeen, and this is no "Hunger Games" -- a film for which we can all be thankful for getting its story right while we await November's sequel.

This is "The Mortal Instruments," another fantasy series of books (by author Cassandra Clare, it's five books since 2007 with a sixth coming next May) getting the film treatment by a studio hoping to cash in with a series of films they can churn out.

But like this year's "The Host" based on Stephenie Meyer's book and the Southern-set "Beautiful Creatures," the result is a picture made with such ineptitude that there is little chance of seeing these characters again in anything but print.

The first fatal decision was the bulk of storyline: A teen girl finds her mother has been kidnapped from their New York apartment, apparently in a continuing battle between good and evil. It seems that mom was a legendary "shadowhunter" with mystical powers living among the "mundanes" (humans) instead of the "dark worlders" like the vampires, werewolves and warlocks.

Mom apparently gave up dealing death to demons to live this existence in order to protect her daughter and to safeguard a powerful ancient cup (think chalice, as in a holy grail). When she's found out and then consumes a poison, the demons now target her daughter, who mom never told about any of this -- including the fact that she, too, is a shadowhunter.

It feels like I could go on forever explaining how the story progresses, but just know these points: good vs. evil, protect the cup, which boy will the teen girl fall in love with?

To say more about the soapy melodrama, demon strengths and weaknesses, gay themes, tarot-card magic, spell-casters who work in their underwear and why the works of Johann Sebastian Bach help to identify demons is to fall into the same trap as the film: There's so much dense mythology in the film that everyone's role is to explain what's going on at all times, even during battles and smooches.

Another bad decision is the employment of Lily Collins as the protagonist, Clary, because this young woman has all the personality and acting ability of a wet rag. For her minor role in "The Blind Side" to have turned her into someone that studios are convinced should be a star (she ruined any chance of "Mirror Mirror" being a success) is a far greater tragedy than anything in the film.

Not only is there too much story (as if they fear, correctly, that there won't be other films in which to include this mythology), there are far too many characters introduced beyond Clary, her shadowhunter protector Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and her high-school best buddy, Simon (Robert Sheehan).

Having not read the books, I can only imagine fans howling at the lost potential of intriguing characters like Luke (a werewolf protecting Clary and her mother for years), Magnus Bane (a magic man with life-saving powers), Hodge (Jared Harris wasted in a wise, old sage cameo) or Clary's mom (the great Lena Headey given a moment of action in the opening scene and then frozen in an eternal sleep for the rest of the movie).

A great moment is reserved for CCH Pounder, whose witch is not the friend that Clary has always believed when her greed is exposed -- and so are her claws. Cool effects are rare here, but this one is menacing.

There are several other characters who are given such small detail to their roles that they should never have been introduced for mere pop-in performances. It doesn't make sense, but then neither does all of the exposition being introduced only to foreshadow what happens in the very next scene. Ugh.

These young-adult film adaptations are having a hard time balancing telling viewers too much mythology, but "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is a monument to unoriginality in those moments that feel lifted from "Twilight."

And "Star Wars." And "Titanic." And "King Arthur." And more.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" target="_blank">The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower

Theaters: (IMAX) Cinemark Tulsa, AMC Southroads 20; also at Promenade, Cinemark Broken Arrow, RiverWalk, Owasso, Eton Square, Starworld 20, Sand Springs, Admiral Twin Drive-in

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content)

Quality: 1 1/2 stars (on a scale of zero to four stars)


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