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The Mortal Instruments' already played out

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First installment of fantasy franchise falls flat

Sometimes, you can't set the bar low enough.

As someone who spends a lot of time at the movies, I've grown accustomed to managing my expectations. While occasionally a film will sneak through and be much better or worse than I anticipated, for the most part I can find a fairly accurate range.

But then you get a movie like 'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' and you realize how much you'll never understand. The film surprised me: I knew it would be pretty bad, but I had no inkling of just what kind of bad we were talking.

Clary Fray (Lily Collins, 'Mirror Mirror') is your standard teenaged girl living in New York City. She's got an overprotective artist mom (Lena Headey, TV's 'Game of Thrones') and a male buddy named Simon (Robert Sheehan, TV's 'Love/Hate') who has been thoroughly friendzoned. But after she goes to a club and witnesses someone being murdered with a sword by an anachronistically-dressed blond dude, her whole world changes.

The stabby blond guy is named Jase (Jamie Campbell Bower, 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn') and he's a shadowhunter. It turns out that for hundreds of years, these shadowhunters have walked among the rest of humanity, killing the crap out of demons as they go. It also turns out that surprise! Clary is a shadowhunter herself. She then meets a bunch of other shadowhunter types - as well as some vampires and werewolves because why not? and finds herself embroiled in the frantic search for some sort of magic cup or whatever. The delightfully-named bad guy Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, TV's 'The Tudors') kidnaps Clary's mom in his quest for the Mortal Cup (that's really what they call it) so that he can become extra-magical. Or something.

Oh, and this will shock you, but Clary winds up falling for smoldering blond demon-stabber guy along the way.

'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' is not a good movie. And if the film is any indication, the worldwide bestselling book series upon which the film is based is not very good either. There's a lot wrong with the film cheesy dialogue, wooden performances, absurd plot developments, etc. but its biggest problem is that the filmmakers don't seem to have had an original thought at any point during filming.

What we have here is a poorly-executed pastiche of a movie. Tropes from every conceivable fantasy film franchise of the past two decades-plus are here, though the two biggest influences are clearly Harry Potter and 'Twilight.' That utter lack of originality has resulted in an abysmal film; it's an artificial sweetener of a movie that has a bit of sparkle, but no inherent value whatsoever.

Some quality of performance might have salvaged something here, but you won't find any of that. Collins who is much better than this, I think never reaches the dead-eyed depths of a Kristen Stewart, but she never connects with the audience either. Still, she's Meryl Streep next to the weirdly delicate bad boy posings of Bower, who is quite awful. Meanwhile, Meyers and the usually-excellent Jared Harris, while clearly the most talented of the bunch, give off a general air of regret about a film they've now realized is a terrible mistake.

Maybe the books are better. I can't say. What I can say, however, is that 'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' is a bad movie. So bad it bothers me. Of course, there's something that bothers me more.

There are at least five more books.

[1 out of 5]

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