"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" accomplishes a stunning feat. This first entry in a film franchise based on a popular young-adult book series is so bad it makes the "Twilight" saga look like "The Godfather" by comparison.
"City of Bones" is laughable in all the wrong places and clumsy as it overexplains its cluttered mythology at some moments but shortchanges the story line at others. It proves that not all young-adult book series are created equal, especially when Hollywood gets its mitts on them. Be wary, fans of the Cassandra Clare book series. I saw the movie with two people who loved the novels but trashed the movie.
The overstuffed plot about Clary (Lily Collins), a Brooklyn lass who taps intoher supernatural mojo, throws in the prerequisite werewolves and vampires. Can't these guys just go into hibernation already?
Thankfully, these critters aren't the main attraction. They play second fiddle to Shadowhunters, tattooed hotties -- for the most part -- assigned to protect the Mundane, aka humans, from demons. Mundanes can't see Shadowhunters, but Clary -- whose superpowers are simmering on the back burner -- can.
The Shadowhunters are often serious, wear leather, and seem to prefer shopping on Victoria's Secret and Undergear websites. The hunkiest of them all -- Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) -- prefers to air out his chest while wearing a hoodie that looks like it was stolen off the "Arrow" TV set. Jace helps Clary sort out her tangled heritage, which also catches the interest of a reclusive downstairs neighbor ("Warehouse 13's" CCH Pounder)
The movie starts off choppy but interesting when mom (Lena Headey) gets kidnapped by two thugs with a shapeshifting demon dog (the film's best special effect). Thereafter, we learn of a magical cup that needs to be retrieved, meet a renegade Shadowhunter named Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who sweats up a storm) and get slapped with a plot twist that makes your skin crawl when you're not too busy laughing at how poorly it's executed.
The screenplay by Jessica Postigo Paquette insists on repeating the obvious, and its occasional decent one-liners get drowned out by limp dialogue that explains and explains and explains. At one point, near the climactic brawl that is all elbows and appendages, one character shouts out words that are intended to wound -- that one character loves another. No duh, big guy. We've been wasting our time watching this thing for more than two hours. We know!
Since this is a YA novel, an obligatory but rather silly love triangle takes shape as clueless Clary hangs out with earnest Simon (Robert Sheehan), a cute but nerdy guy friend (isn't there always one?) who comes along for the ride and gets kidnapped briefly. This leads to a lame action sequence involving vampires and werewolves. Yawn.
Director Harald Zwart ("The Karate Kid" remake) fumbles and stumbles. It sometimes seems like he's just tagging all the bases. He even throws in a love song that is obviously meant to produce a chart-topping hit.
His leads fail him, too. Collins ("Mirror Mirror") doesn't make much of an impression, and she and Campbell Bower show no chemistry, even though he delivers some humorous lines with deadpan style.
This should serve as a warning. Hollywood needs to stop gobbling up any YA novel it hopes will replicate "Twilight." Earlier this year, the much better "Beautiful Creatures" came out and landed with a thud. Rent that one on DVD; it's leagues better than this.
Hollywood has more than enough high-caliber young adult lit to mine. Filmmakers should tap into richer human stories. We mere mortals would dearly appreciate it.
'The mortal instruments: City of Bones'
Rating: PG-13 (fantasy violence, suggestive language and content)
Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Robert Sheehan, CCH Pounder, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jared Harris, Aidan Turner
Director: Harold Zwart
Running time: 2 hours,10 minutes