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Certainly not the first and very unlikely the last studio attempt at launching a Twilight/Hunger Games franchise of their very own, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a bona fide saga all right — just not in a good way.
Based on the first in a best-selling series of fantasy adventure novels by Cassandra Clare, this Canada-Germany co-production is an overlong, melodramatic take on the age-old battle between the forces of good and evil.
All the usual suspects are here, from the conflicted heroine and her rival suitors from decidedly different walks of life to the dark, sinister forces that threaten to tear them apart, both figuratively and literally.
But despite the overstuffed assortment of vampires, werewolves, warlocks and demons of all shapes and sizes, The Mortal Instruments seldom feels like anything more than a shameless, soulless knockoff.
Released well ahead of the traditionally challenging Labor Day holiday weekend, the Screen Gems presentation could still snare some young female mallgoers on the hunt for a little break from back-to-school shopping.
A sequel is already slated to begin shooting in Toronto this fall.
Despite that ring of familiarity, the film starts off energetically as Clarissa “Clary” Fray (Lily Collins) begins to realize that she isn’t the average, everyday Brooklyn teen she thought she was, seeing symbols and people that nobody else does.
When her mom (Lena Headey) goes missing upon being attacked by a particularly nasty demon, Clary and her platonic, geeky buddy Simon (Robert Sheehan) team up with chronically brooding Shadowhunter Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower) to help track her down.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned dark forces are closing in on her, convinced that she knows the location of The Mortal Cup, a vessel that could create serious havoc if it fell into the wrong hands.
While director Harald Zwart (the Jaden Smith Karate Kid remake) briskly sets the scene, the proceedings soon get bogged down by all the ponderous exposition and stone-faced dialogue credited to screenwriter Jessica Postigo Paquette that grows sillier by the second.
Among the film’s more smirk-inducing revelations: Bach was not only a great composer but a Shadowhunter himself (with the identifying tattoos to prove it), who deliberately wrote note combinations that would drive demons nuts.
In the face of that sort of nonsense, Collins does her best to remain rooted in her character, conveying a persuasive empathy against increasing odds.
The other characters, including Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the power-hungry Shadowhunter Valentine and Jared Harris as Jace’s tutor Hodge Starkweather, have it tougher infusing some much-needed dimension, although CCH Pounder manages to make the most of her eye-rolling turn as tarot card-reading Madame Dorothea.
Production values are generally lively thanks to some imaginative visual effects and production design, especially during a sequence set in the vampire-filled ballroom of the derelict Hotel Dumort.
Opens: Wednesday, Aug. 21 (Sony)
Production companies: Screen Gems, Constantin Film International, Unique Features
Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Lena Headey, CCH Pounder, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Director: Harald Zwart
Screenwriter: Jessica Postigo Paquette
Executive producers: Bob Shaye, Michael Lynne, Martin Moszkowicz
Producers: Robert Kulzer, Don Carmody
Director of photography: Geir Hartly Andreassen
Production designer: Francois Seguin
Music: Atli Orvarsson
Costume designer: Gersha Phillips
Editor: Jacqueline Carmody
Rated PG-13, 128 minutes
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