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“I paid good money for you,” claims Jeff Bridges’ boozing, seemingly British witch hunter to his latest apprentice in Seventh Son, an effects-laden heroic fantasy tale produced by Legendary Pictures and directed by Russian cineaste Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains).
The same can be said for this long delayed and rather benign mash-up of The Lord of the Rings and Jack the Giant Slayer (with a bit of Game of Thrones tossed in), which takes an A-list crew and cast — including Julianne Moore sporting a black feather dress and matching eyeliner — and goes nowhere new with it, investing lots in VFX and locations but not enough in an original story anyone cares about. Distributed in France in late December, where it’s likely to be wiped from the screen by The Hobbit, the Universal release should see moderate numbers when it hits U.S. theatres next February. Box office in Asia and Eastern territories could help pay off some of the bounty.
Based on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles series — released as The Spook’s Apprentice in the U.K. and as the more politically correct The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in the States — the film also features an impressive writing team, with Matt Greenberg (1408) handling story and Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) and Steven Knight (Locke) sharing screenplay duties.
But even these pros can go only so far with this deja-vu dragon, where two knights battle witches, ogres and other shape-shifting creatures for control of a forested kingdom that looks a lot like British Columbia (confirmed in the end credits). The good guys are led by war-torn wino Master Gregory — played by Bridges with a gobbled-up foreign accent, as if Sean Connery had stuffed his face with mashed potatoes and tried to say things like: “You live in a world where legend and nightmare are real.”
Gregory is assisted in his duties by a “seventh son of a seventh son” accomplice — a young man born with prophetic visions of doom. The first trainee is portrayed by Kit Harington, who looks like he wandered off the HBO set in his Jon Snow garb and somehow landed here. When he’s quickly disposed of, Gregory finds his next sidekick in Tom Ward (Ben Barnes of The Chronicles of Narnia), a naive farmhand with much to learn about the dark forces, especially when he falls for a gorgeous enchantress (Swedish beauty Alicia Vikander, A Royal Affair) doubling as a spy for the bad girls.
It’s not hard to see where this is leading, with master and apprentice joining hands after the usual mishaps, eventually making their way to the mountaintop lair of evil queen Mother Malkin (Moore), who has decided to unleash havoc for no other clear reason than that Bridges’ character dumped her for his wife a while back. Talk about motivation. Otherwise, the film bears some kind of subtext about powerful women being scorned in a world of men, but that idea is never fully exploited by the filmmakers, who ask special effects maestro John Dykstra (the original Star Wars) to carry much of the narrative weight as he dishes out dragons, warlocks and digital creatures galore.
Bodrov is best known for his Oscar-nominated drama Prisoner of the Mountains, which he followed with international action flicks including Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Kahn. His style here is serviceable though hardly distinguishing, and nothing in the Seventh Son really pops off the screen, with three credited editors cramming everything into a neat 100 minutes. It’s as if the film had entered Legendary’s assembly line with some promise but then started clogging up the machine, its release delayed for nearly two years due to postproduction woes and issues with then-partner Warner Bros.
What’s left is certainly watchable but far from memorable, and though a closing scene leaves things open for a sequel, business realities may decide otherwise. If anything, the movie offers up the guilty pleasure of seeing Bridges and Moore duel it out in front of countless green screens and a few stunning Canadian backdrops — two great actors clawing at each other with magic staffs and fake fire, trying to survive in the netherworld of heroic kitsch.
Production companies: Legendary Pictures, Thunder Road Film, Wigram
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Kit Harington
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Screenwriters: Charles Leavitt, Steven Knight, from a story by Matt Greenberg, based on the book “The Spook’s Apprentice” by Joseph Delaney
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Thomas Tull, Lionel Wigram
Executive producers: Alysia Cotter, Jon Jashni, Brent O’Connor
Director of photography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Production designer: Dante Ferretti
Costume designer: Jacqueline West
Editors: Jim Page, Paul Rubell
Composer: Marco Beltrami
Casting directors: Coreen Mayrs, Amanda Mackey Johnson
Visual effects designer: John Dykstra
No rating, 103 min.
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