It's pretty safe to say that director Chris Columbus had little to do with the success of the first two Harry Potter films. And if Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief is any indication, we should all be thankful he didn't screw them up more. Instead of learning from the directors who helmed the later, far superior Potter sequels, Columbus is back to indulging in his worst instincts: clumsy transitions, plug-and-play characters, spastic pacing and kids who stand around bug-eyed, mouths agape in amazement. The director has never met a crane-shot he didn't love, and enforces a cinematic blandness that hasn't evolved in 20 years of filmmaking.
Based on the Rick Riordan's fantasy novel, The Lightning Thief introduces us to the troubled teen Percy Jackson (Logan Lermann). He's dyslexic, has an abusive stepdad and can hold his breath underwater for impossible lengths of time. With those facts barely penciled in, the movie hurls Percy and his best-buddy Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) into otherworldly danger. He's attacked by a demon, learns he's the son of the Greek god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), is attacked again by a minotaur and escapes to Hogwarts ... er, Camp Half Blood. There he learns Grover is actually a satyr and his professor (Pierce Brosnan) is a Dumbledore-like centaur. Still with me? This is just the first 30 minutes. The upshot is Zeus (Sean Bean) is about to wage war on his brother Poseidon because he's convinced (for reasons never explained) Percy stole his super-powered lightning bolt. But before the teenage demigod can deal with all that, he's got to go on a cross-country road trip with Grover and the daughter of Athena (Alexandra Daddario) to gather a trio of magic marbles so he can enter the underworld and rescue his mom from the evil Hades (a squandered Steve Coogan).
The Lightning Thief suffers from more ADD issues than a kindergartner on Red Bull.
Riffing on classic tales of the Medusa (the lovely Uma Thurman channeling her unfortunate performance as Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin) and the lotus eaters, what could've been a clever updating of Greek mythology is an exercise in slapdash cinematic excess. The movie's overwritten, overacted and overwhelmed by mediocre Harryhausen-like special effects. It lurches from one supernatural encounter to the next, moving its cast around like lifeless action figures. You know things have gone awry when even Catherine Keener stinks.
Though 7-year-olds will probably enjoy the fast-paced, bombastic spectacle of the thing, The Lightning Thief is generic filmmaking at its most cynical, a movie hoping to ride on Harry Potter's coattails without producing an ounce of magic or wonder.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].