The gods of fine taste have a new enemy: a pipsqueak brat called Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) who looks like he strayed from the set of a Clearasil commercial to star in his big screen debut – a knucklehead adventure/fantasy that plays like a pastiche of all the worst bits from the Harry Potter and Narnia flicks.
Attempting to do for Greek mythology what Potter did for witchcraft and Twilight for vampires, family friendly mulch-making director Chris Columbus adapts Rick Riordan’s novel about a high school student with ADD who discovers that his affection for water is genetic and his bloodline is linked to ancient Greek mythology.
You see, Percy is a demigod – the son of Poseidon, god of the sea.
Before our slippery pubescent protag learns his true identity he is accosted by a freaky flying bat woman who accuses him of pilfering Zeus’s lightning bolt, to which his response understandably amounts to “whaa?” After a stretch at demigod training camp Percy embarks on a disconnected adventure in which he battles Minotaurs and demons, avoids eye contact with Medusa (Uma Thurman) and travels to hell and back to rescue his mummy, Catherine Keener, who was obviously three sheets to the wind when she signed on to do this dross.
The plotline is one of those aggravatingly random strings of faux fantastical events in which the storytellers, unrestrained by logic or ingenuity, make up the rules as they go along, which lends the film a vibe of careless spontaneity.
Percy and his mum live in a small flat in New York with boorish slob Gabe (Joe Pentoliano), the kind of guy who demands to be handed a beer when he’s sitting two feet from the fridge. Why does she put up with such a rude nincompoop? We discover the reason is because – I’m not making this up – Gabe’s BO masks Percy’s presence from the gods.
It seems appropriate that co-star Pierce Brosnan is quite literally a horse’s arse, or at least he has one. He plays the obligatory wise sensei, though it’s a hard to take him seriously when his character is also a centaur: half human, half horse; the Brosnan bronco.
To prove that he really, honestly, cross-his-heart-swear-to-god didn’t steal Zeus’s lightning bolt Percy goes cross-country America and in and out the afterlife with the assistance of his protector/wise crackin’ sidekick Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and fighter/love interest Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario).
The scene in which they visit Hades begins with a gravity-defying canoe ride: their travel guide paddles through thick, acrid air as innumerable objects sail past and around them. He explains that these are scraps from broken dreams, the failed ambitions of fools and sinners. Look really closely and you can see a copy of the Percy Jackson screenplay.
Hades seems a jolly jaunt compared with the onerous task of watching this movie. Even the special effects look shonky: open a picture of Zeus in Photoshop, apply a few dozen motion blurs and you’re halfway there. Despite the set-piece based plot and Marshall’s glossy direction the film can’t shirk a crummy TV show vibe – a sort of diluted Xena: Warrior Princess for young dorks.
Intriguingly, it’s not the only big budget fantasy family film of late in which the characters ingest psychotropics. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore decrees he must drink a large container of what appears to be liquid LCD.
In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy and his entourage visit a dazzling Vegas casino where busty slender women feed them on the house “lotus flowers.” They walk around in a druggy punch-drunk haze before eventually snapping out of it. Maybe this is a yoof oriented tribute to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with an anti-drugs message to boot. Or maybe the filmmakers simply had a few too many lotus flowers themselves.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief’s Australian theatrical release date: February 11, 2010