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"THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES"
(2013) (Lily Collins, Robert Sheehan) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Fantasy: A teenager's life is turned upside down when her mother disappears and she's pulled into a fantastical world filled with demons, demon hunters, vampires, werewolves and unsettling discoveries about herself and her family.
PLOT:
Teenager Clary Fray (LILY COLLINS) lives in a New York City apartment with her artist mom, Jocelyn (LENA HEADEY), a floor above the reclusive Dorothea (CCH POUNDER). While she believes that her mom is just stringing along boyfriend Luke (AIDAN TURNER), little does Clary realize that her best friend, fellow teenager Simon Lewis (ROBERT SHEEHAN), is secretly in love with her. One night while out with him, she witnesses an apparent murder committed by Jace Wayland (JAMIE CAMPBELL BOWER), something neither Simon nor anyone else at the club sees.

She then gets a frantic call from her mom -- who's under attack by two hulking henchmen, Pangborn (KEVIN DURAND) and Blackwell (ROBERT MAILLET) -- not to return home, just before Jocelyn downs a substance that renders her unconscious. Clary arrives to find the place ransacked and her mom missing, with Jace then arriving to inform her of what's transpired.

It turns out he's a half-mortal, half-angel demon hunter known as a Shadowhunter and states that the men who attacked her mom work for Valentine Morgenstern (JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS), another Shadowhunter who's broken from the pack and wants the Mortal Cup that she stole from him to prevent him from obtaining greater powers.

Realizing they need help, Jace takes Clary and Simon to the Institute -- a massive building hidden from view to all in Manhattan except those with the ability to see it -- where they meet sibling Shadowhunters Isabelle Lightwood (JEMIMA WEST) and Alec Lightwood (KEVIN ZEGERS), as well as Hodge Starkweather (JARED HARRIS) who continues Clary's education about her past and current situation. She eventually learns that her mom used the powerful warlock Magnus Bane (GODFREY GAO) to put a spell on her to keep her from remembering odd things she saw as a child as well as her true identity.

Armed with but still uneasy about this knowledge, Clary sets out to find her mom with the help of Simon and the various Shadowhunters, all while having to deal with vampires, werewolves, demons and Valentine's nefarious plans.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
In the fairly recent world of easy amateur audio and video editing at home, the so-called mash-up has become something of an Internet sensation, at least among fan-boys and fan-girls. For those not familiar with the term, it's when two or more artistic pieces are assembled together to create a derivative work, be that a song or video clip (and sometimes a book or two) comprised of bits and pieces of earlier material. In fact, it's popular enough that the adjective "mashable" has popped up to identify original works that are ready for the old Frankenstein treatment.

Although not primarily intended as such, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" appears to be the work of a modern day mad scientist who's crafted together so many pieces from so many different works that you'd think the world likely ran out of stitches during its assembly. While Dorothy of Kansas might have exclaimed "Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!" upon setting foot in Oz, the young heroine of this story could likely shout "Demons, and vampires, and witches! Oh, my! Oh, and werewolves, and warlocks, and magic wands, and portals, and young love triangles and family revelations worthy of a long, long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away!"

Yes, this adaptation of Cassandra Clare's 2007 novel of the same name liberally imitates, lifts, borrows and steals from so many other sources that it easily could have been called "The Mashable Instruments: You've Seen This All Before." And that's because viewers will see or at least be reminded of quite similar material that previously occurred in the likes of the "Harry Potter," "Star Wars," "Twilight," "Blade," "Underworld" and other such films to the point that there doesn't seem to be an original bone anywhere in this far too lengthy (at 130 minutes) first offering of the "Mortal Instruments" film franchise.

Granted, truly original and novel works are few and far between, and "Potter" ripped off parts of "Star Wars" that ripped off elements from films the preceded that. While I'm not a huge fan of such cinematic pilfering, it's somewhat acceptable if the resultant derivative work spins said material into something that feels unique, or at least incorporates it smartly and creatively into the rest of the new material.

Here, things start off promisingly enough, with our protagonist (Lily Collins, daughter of singer Phil Collins) having odd events starting to pile up in her life, culminating in what appears to be a nightclub murder that no one, including her best friend (Robert Sheehan) sees, while her mother (Lena Headey) is attacked and abducted by some henchmen. She's later saved from a demon dog monster by a half-angel, half-mortal (Jamie Campbell Bower) who takes her to Hogwarts, uh, "The Institute," where she learns about her past, her unique abilities, and that the film's villain, Voldemort, sorry, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), is seeking a device that will make him more powerful.

Right up to the moment after the quite violent attack on her mom (that makes you wonder if this is going to head into R-rated territory), director Harald Zwart (the "Karate Kid" remake, "The Pink Panther 2") decently orchestrates scribe Jessica Postigo's adaptation of Clare's work. But then the derivative, mashable elements start piling up to the point that you expect the metaphorical kitchen sink will come falling down through the ceiling at some point.

It also doesn't help that such works of fantasy need to have their rules and regulations of their unique universe set in stone, at least in terms of who's who, what's what, and how and why things happen, can be utilized and so on. Some of that's clearly present here. Yet, as "new" elements keep being introduced and then begin piling up ever deeper, I could hear strains of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" playing somewhere off in the distance.

As a result, the drama and related tension, while occasionally still present in specific moments, end up pretty much squandered. To make matters worse, it all starts to look and smell a lot like "Twilight," what with the vampires, werewolves, and a girl caught in the middle of the beginnings of a competitive love triangle. At least Collins makes for a more interesting heroine, and she thankfully avoids copying Kristen Stewart's constipated, miffed and constant look that she smelled something bad facial expression.

Nonetheless, the budding triangular love element, as well as the surprise familial connections that are revealed in the third act had many a critic as well as everyday moviegoer howling in laughter at our advance preview screening, a reaction I'm assuming was not the intended goal of the filmmakers. While the book's fans might eat up what's offered (like they inexplicably did for Stephenie Meyer's series), I just can't imagine this offering crossing over to the masses who aren't already familiar with the work, its characters, and their melodramatic, soap opera inspired trappings.

Since it's already about as "mashed" as they come, I'm not sure this film will get a similar treatment of its own somewhere down the line, but there's no denying you've seen this offering, or at least its various pieces, in lots of other earlier films. Unintentionally funny in terms of that and its young adult angst, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed August 19, 2013 / Posted August 21, 2013


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