'Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' hits some sour notes

The Fresno BeeAugust 21, 2013 

This film publicity image released by Screen Gems shows Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace, left, and Lilly Collins as Clary in a scene from "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones."

SONY PICTURES CLASSICS — AP

In a world where there is no "Twilight," "Underworld," "Stargate" or "Star Wars," the film "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" would be an interesting look at a magical universe where turmoil is equally divided between a war with demons and the battle for young love. Those films do exist, and that leaves "City of Bones" feeling mundane.

The story — so convoluted that it's likely only a fan of the original Cassandra Clare novels can fully comprehend it — centers on Clary (Lily Collins), a young woman who believes her biggest problem is listening to a friend's bad poetry. That changes when demons invade her home, trash the place and kidnap her mother all in an effort to recover a magic cup. It's the Holy Grail of demons.

Clary gets sucked into a world of weird creatures, major battles and Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), a brooding blond Shadowhunter. She begins her quest to find the cup and her mother while going all doe-eyed over her new champion who looks like he just stepped out of a Tommy Hilfiger catalogue.

Director Harald Zwart, the man who gave us the abomination of "Pink Panther 2," shows a lack of talent in blending the big action and emotion. These elements should support each other, but they feel like they are from two different scripts. Even the attempts to add a touch of humor — like suggesting a werewolf would feel more comfortable hanging his head out of a car window — don't come across as connected to the rest of the film.

The big problem is the adaptation by Jessica Postigo is a jumble of material that could fit in four or five films. Postigo treats the script as if only fans of the book will be in the audience. Instead of clearly explaining this dark and strange world (it's still not clear if demons can or can't be killed), Postigo starts and stops the story. There's more concern with trying to hit all of the high points of the book and the movie suffers for it.

The film can't hide behind the oh-so-familiar love triangle. Clary, Jace and Clary's nerd buddy, Simon (Robert Sheehan), come across more as the last three people at a party looking desperately not to go home alone. Simon's character has potential to be more, which most likely will be revealed in the sequel, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes," already in the works. For now, he's just a convenience for the story.

Timing is the film's biggest problem — both in tempo and release. Zwart never finds the right rhythms through either the personal stories or the action sequences to make this a smooth entertainment ride. It also hurts the movie hits theaters in the wake of so many action and adult fantasy productions that have gone down this road before.

"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," which opened Wednesday, should please fans of the books. Others should consider one of the other films that make up this genre.

MOVIE REVIEW

"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," rated PG-13 for action scenes. Stars Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Lena Headey, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Directed by Harald Zwart. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes. Grade: C+ Theaters and times

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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