Movie review: Same old magic formula

Movie review: Same old magic formula
Cinema still: Seventh Son starring Jeff Bridges (left) and Ben Barnes


103 minutes / Opens today / ***

The story: Young Tom (Ben Barnes) is sold by his pig farmer father into the service of an exorcist-warrior Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), the last of a race of Spooks, men dedicated to fighting supernatural evil. As Tom is the seventh son of a seventh son, he has powers of his own. Together, they struggle with a witch-queen, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), who is gathering an army. Based on the best-selling series of young adult novels The Wardstone Chronicles by British author Joseph Delaney.

More young-adult action, anyone? In the first of what appears to be a franchise, a new universe is laid out, comprised of what appears to be Generic Movie Middle Ages Europe (that is, taverns, swords, mud), but peopled by humans of all races, all threatened by monsters big and small.

In other words, this is nothing moviegoers have not seen a hundred times before. Old and reliable formulas are everywhere: Cute young hero (Barnes) and star-crossed love interest (the young witch Alice, played by Alicia Vikander), and too many computer- graphics beasties to mention, to push the violence levels up to the limits of the PG13 rating and no further.

The surprise is the inclusion of respected actors Bridges and Moore, both of whom, one guesses, signed up for the salary.

Director Sergey Bodrov (Mongol, 2007) lets Bridges harrumph his way through the dialogue, as if an imaginary lump of chewing tobacco were trapped under his lip.

That style of acting, which should be called Ornery Drunk Prospector, worked well enough for him in True Grit (2010), Crazy Heart (2009) and R.I.P.D. (2013), so Bridges has brought it out again, this time dialled to 11.

The words emerge from within his beard in a slight mid-Atlantic tone, though still recognisably American. The entire cast, in fact, including British actor Barnes and Swedish actress Vikander, seem to have settled on an accent that hovers somewhere over Ohio.

In a fantasy world, one sort of accent is probably as good as another, but it does break the movie rule that any story with wizards, knights and dragons must be set within walking distance of London.

Accent is one issue, Barnes is another. As young Tom, he has the personality and acting chops of a tavern stool. Bodrov, wisely, makes sure Barnes spends most of his time not acting, but running away and fighting.

Less story, more monsters: This is a movie that knows where the money is.

This article was first published on December 31, 2014.
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