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Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015 12:01 am

Son fails to cast a spell

Ben Barnes as Tom Ward and Jeff Bridges as Master Gregory in Seventh Son.
PHOTO COURTESY Universal Pictures
Ben Barnes as Tom Ward and Jeff Bridges as Master Gregory in Seventh Son.
PHOTO COURTESY Universal Pictures


Sometimes bad movies happen to good actors. Such is the case with Sergey Bodrov’s Seventh Son, an adaptation of the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice series – and likely the last. That’s too bad, because as YA literature goes, it’s better than most, as the central relationship in the 13 book series – that of the Spook Gregory and his apprentice Tom Ward – continues to develop and ground the stories in a humanistic way that most books of this sort lack. Son hints at this friendship but fails to fully develop it, instead relying on a rote fantasy narrative brought low by its predictability and lackluster special effects.

The film gets off to a rousing start as we see the escape of one Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), a rather malevolent witch who’s been incarcerated by the Spook, Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges). This is a rather thankless job, as he’s been deputed to deal with all supernatural threats that come his way. To be sure, he’s well paid for his services, but it’s a dangerous profession, as evidenced by the number of apprentices who’ve failed to survive their period of tutelage. However, Gregory is forced to take on a new charge as the coming of the Blood Moon, a once-in-a-century occurrence, is giving Malkin and her ilk more power than ever, and he’s in need of help as she’s marshaling her forces to do whatever it is that evil witches do. Having heard of the existence of a seventh son born of a seventh son, he seeks out the young man in question, Tom Ward (a fine Ben Barnes), knowing that the circumstances of his birth will give him special powers. Their ensuing partnership is a tenuous one, made more so by the fact that Gregory has only a week to train his apprentice before the Blood Moon is full and Malkin and her supernatural army begin their onslaught on humanity.

This is pretty standard stuff narratively, and, as adapted by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight, the script hits all of the expected plot points right on schedule. Gregory and Tom bicker and fight, the young man fails one test after another, realizes his potential at a very opportune time, the day is saved and things are left wide open for a sequel. Plenty of good movies have been made following this template, and many more will. Son isn’t so much a bad movie as an uninspired one, as it feels as if Bodrov rushed through the list of scenes he was required to stage, checked them off and rushed to the next, never bothering to think of an imaginative way to frame or film them.

Hardly helping the cause are the flimsy special effects that are employed far too often as Malkin and her sisters are able to turn into dragons, which is a nifty party trick no matter what century you are living in. These transformations are awkward and clunky and break the spell Bodrov labors to cast. Films of this sort must find a comfortable balance between reality and fantasy, and the former is glimpsed at times when Gregory and Tom have their numerous teacher/student moments. However, scenes in which dragons soar, warlocks turn to leopards and giants are in hot pursuit are rendered in a barely passable manner and we’re never completely transported to another world as we’re supposed to be.

Of course, that’s not from lack of trying on Moore’s part. A consummate professional all the way, she tries to find something distinctive about Malkin but fails to make the character nothing more than your standard witch that can turn into a dragon. However, it must be noted that she really rocks her Goth wardrobe. As for Bridges, I spent nearly the entire running time of the film trying to figure out how to describe his odd voice. If you can imagine Sean Connery speaking with a mouthful of cotton, that’s a rough idea of what the actor sounds like. Bridges’ vocal choice is a distraction throughout, and I got the sense that maybe he thought he was making a comedy instead of a period fantasy. The actor and the movie both wear out their welcome, as Son winds up being a long, dull haul rather than a rousing adventure.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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