Bland and derivative, ‘Lightning Thief’ never catches fire
2 out of 5 Stars
PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF,
with Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman. 120 mins. PG. Playing in wide release
"Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism" Oscar Levant quipped. But no one ever said that someone who steals from you does it well — or that you did it well in the first place.
So the decision to make a film with as awkward a title as Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief can only be attributed to the desire to steal as much from the Harry Potter series as the lawyers will let them get away with. (The producers even hired Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter movies, to direct this one.)
But like the Potter series, Percy Jackson is so full of childish nonsense it’s less like being swept away in the wonder of fantasy and more like being taxed to suspend disbelief beyond its limits.
Here, the filmmakers exploit not witchcraft, but Greek mythology. The Titans really existed and exist today; their half-human hybrid offspring, the demi-gods, walk among us.
Poseidon’s bastard son, Percy (Logan Lerman), is a normal teen until someone steals Zeus’ lightning bolt — "the most powerful weapon ever created" — and Percy becomes the chief suspect, and has to go on the run while learning about his true nature. He also defies his teachers at Hogwar… er, the demi-god school in order to rescue his mom.
Why someone who doesn’t even know he’s a demi-god would sit atop the Most Wanted list of omnipotent god who should know better is never made clear, nor is why Zeus maintains such lax security measures that a boy could walk away with his greatest power. (You’d think he’d have learned a lesson after the whole Prometheus debacle.) Of course, you could argue that thinking too much about a movie like this is a pointless exercise; I just wish someone who worked on the movie thought about some of these issues before they made it.
Certainly the film doesn’t quite survive the smirk test — that is, whether audience members instinctively groan and smirk when plot points and characters are introduced. (It’s rarely a good sign when a movie star makes an unexpected entrance and viewers chuckle at the idiocy of his appearance.)
Many of the weaknesses might be forgivable were the special effects either more plentiful or more convincing. The lightning bolt itself, when it arrives, looks like little more than a jagged fluorescent light bulb (and it varies tremendously in size for no discernible reason). Medusa’s head of snakes looks good, but the decision to cast Uma Thurman as the hideous Gorgon is a bone-headed one.
Just watching it requires Herculean effort, and the result is akin to Sisyphus’: You end up back where you started. Personally, I’ll be more interested in seeing the upcoming remake of Clash of the Titans, if I can get rid of the sour taste of this tame adventure.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 12, 2010.