Sunday, February 8, 2015

In Theaters: SEVENTH SON (2015)

(US/China - 2015)

Directed by Sergei Bodrov. Written by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Djimon Hounsou, Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue, Jason Scott Lee, John DeSantis, Gerard Plunkett, Kandyce McClure, Luc Roderique, Zahf Paroo. (PG-13, 102 mins)

Filmed way back in 2012 and bounced around the schedule since its first announced release date of February 2013, the $100 million SEVENTH SON has finally arrived with some of the lowest expectations this side of 47 RONIN. The original release date was postponed after one of the film's primary companies in charge of the visual effects went bankrupt. After that was sorted out, the first official trailer appeared in theaters in July 2013, followed by numerous release date shuffles pushing the movie into 2014. Some time later, Legendary Pictures ended their partnership with distributor Warner Bros., setting up a new deal with Universal, who bumped SEVENTH SON to February 2015, likely to afford it a reasonable opportunity to distance itself from the 47 RONIN debacle of Christmas 2013. The train-wreck potential on this one is pretty high, but its primary offenses are shoddy visuals, sloppy writing, and a strict adherence to a stale formula. Despite the buckets of money thrown on the screen, SEVENTH SON doesn't look any better than one of Uwe Boll's straight-to-DVD IN THE NAME OF THE KING sequels, with some alarmingly unimpressive greenscreen backdrops and the daytime exteriors given the same kind of blurry, smeary soft focus that ABC News uses on Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer.

Based on Joseph Delaney's 2004 novel The Spook's Apprentice (retitled The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in the US), the first part of the "Wardstone Chronicles" (UK)/"Last Apprentice" (US) medieval fantasy series (now up to 13 books, plus several spinoff novels), SEVENTH SON deals with Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), a wise old warrior fighting the supernatural. Known as a "spook," he's the last of his kind, the sole survivor of a legion of warriors defeated by evil. Now a mercenary witch hunter, Gregory is called back into action when Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), a nefarious spellcaster he imprisoned in a mountain dungeon decades earlier, escapes and kills his apprentice Bradley (Kit Harington). Mother Malkin, who frequently shapeshifts into a dragon, is set to reclaim her throne and unleash her evil over the world upon the rise of the Blood Moon, a once-per-century lunar event that happens to be a week away. Gregory needs a new apprentice, a seventh son of a seventh son, which leads him to earnest farm boy Tom Ward (Ben Barnes). Tom leaves his family to join Gregory in his quest, falling in love with Alice (Alicia Vikander), the half-witch niece of Mother Malkin. As Gregory trains Tom in the ways of being a spook--of course they initially butt heads but come to a mutual respect--they're joined by Gregory's faithful servant Tusk (John DeSantis) and prepare for battle against Mother Malkin, who's assembling her army of fellow shapeshifting witches and warlocks in order for evil to reign supreme at the coming of the Blood Moon.

No stranger to planned franchises that stall after one film, director Sergei Bodrov--well-respected in Russian and, since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakh cinema--is best known to arthouse audiences for his Genghis Khan epic MONGOL (2008), the first installment of an announced trilogy whose second chapter has yet to materialize. It's hard to say what drew the 64-year-old Bodrov to a mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster-type project 40 years into his filmmaking career (he also directed PRISONER OF THE MOUNTAINS, a 1996 Oscar-nominee for Best Foreign Language Film), but the look and feel of SEVENTH SON is purely that of a B-grade LORD OF THE RINGS knockoff, from the inevitable swooping, circular aerial shots of the heroes walking along hills and mountaintops to the sage old mentor instructing a naive, impulsive pupil. The bland Barnes, who's seen whatever momentum he had going from being THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA's Prince Caspian derailed by films shelved for anywhere from two (THE BIG WEDDING) to three (this) to even five years (LOCKED IN), was 31 at the time of filming and looks a good decade too old for his role. Barnes, currently the British guy you go to after Andrew Garfield, Jim Sturgess, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Alex Pettyfer turn you down, is largely indistinguishable from his CGI surroundings, and in many scenes, he and the supporting cast appear to be looped in a way that's just ever-so-slightly off, giving a certain slapdash feel to the proceedings. It's especially noticeable with Swedish Vikander and German Antje Traue (as Mother Malkin's witch sister), who are clearly dubbed with different voices in some scenes, and speak with their own audible accents in others. This, along with some later scenes where Barnes' hairstyle and Bridges' hair color have changed, are obvious indicators of hasty reshoots.

Even Moore flubs it at times, using a comically regal tone most of the time and occasionally slipping into her normal way of speaking. She goes through rants and raves with a look on her face that indicates she's well aware of how dumb all of it sounds, but she trudges through like a pro, as does the great two-time Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou, who deserves better than a stock henchman role as one of Mother Malkin's supernatural cohorts. It's hard telling what's up with Bridges, who really seems to have stopped trying after his CRAZY HEART Oscar. Bodrov obviously just let Bridges do whatever he wanted to do, which apparently involved playing Master Gregory as a some sort of bizarre mash-up between Gandalf and Karl Childers. Enunciating oddly through a jutted-out lower jaw, Bridges is mannered and hammy, much like he's been since his Oscar-nominated turn as Rooster Cogburn in TRUE GRIT. That was a fine and fun performance in 2010, but a coasting Bridges has just kept delivering it over and over again since. Jeff Bridges is one of the greats and while we all love The Dude, maybe it's time for him to start giving a shit again.

Earlier Warner poster art reflecting just
one of the film's many bumped release dates.
Bridges does get a couple of funny one-liners, but the script--credited to BLOOD DIAMOND screenwriter Charles Leavitt and LOCKE writer/director Steven Knight, who separately rewrote an earlier draft by Matt Greenberg (REIGN OF FIRE)--is all over the place, often feeling like we're watching the sequel to something that doesn't exist, arbitrarily pulling new rules and stipulations out of its ass when it gets backed into a corner, and not even following its own logic: why does Master Gregory even need an apprentice?  He has Tusk, a more than formidable sidekick. And the only time Tom comes to Gregory's rescue is after the pupil's stupidity causes the mentor to be captured in the first place. If Gregory has a week to stop Mother Malkin's Blood Moon-abetted reign of terror, he and Tusk seem more than up to the task--why take all the time to train Tom, who's obviously dead weight until the script needs him to be the hero? Ultimately, all of this "seventh son of a seventh son" malarkey does nothing other than make you wish Iron Maiden was handling the soundtrack duties. On the plus side, SEVENTH SON moves quickly, Bodrov deserves some credit for getting Jason Scott Lee (DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY) back on the big screen again even if it's a brief role as a warlock who shapeshifts into a giant bear, and I'm sure Bridges and Moore had a great time between takes reminiscing about THE BIG LEBOWSKI. It's just too bad that SEVENTH SON doesn't end NEWHART-style with The Dude waking up from a hazy dream and trying to explain it to an incredulous Maude Lebowski.

No comments:

Post a Comment