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Dustin Putman

Seventh Son  (2015)
1½ Stars
Directed by Sergei Bodrov.
Cast: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Djimon Hounsou, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue, Jason Scott Lee, Kandyse McClure, David Cubitt.
2015 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, frightening images and brief strong language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, February 5, 2015.
Inspired by the novel "The Spook's Apprentice" by Joseph Delaney, $95-million mystical adventure "Seventh Son" is probably slightly better than its delayed release suggests (it was filmed nearly three years ago and has been growing cobwebs on the shelf for two). That is not to suggest it is in any way, shape or form actually good, though. The actors struggle to make gold out of the direct-to-video-level screenplay by Charles Leavitt (2008's "The Express") and Steven Knight (2014's "Locke"), while super-brief sparks of inspiration courtesy of director Sergei Bodrov are not enough to freshen the stale scent of empty disposability permeating its existence.

Years ago, Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) locked away the corrupted woman he loved—shape-shifting witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore)—in hopes that she would never be able to harm another living soul. Now, with the lunar cycle of the once-every-century blood moon beginning, she has been unleashed from her underground tomb. As Mother Malkin prepares to take over the world at the moment the blood moon becomes full, Gregory knows that he must find a way to stop her. With his former warrior apprentice having perished, he elects restless farmer Tom Ward (Ben Barnes)—the coveted seventh son of a seventh son—to train under him and fight Malkin's creatures of the dark.

For fantasy-loving kids in the 10-14 age range, "Seventh Son" may capture their attention even if it doesn't give them anything to think about or consider after the fact. For everyone else, it reminds of simplistic fan-fiction from people who have seen "Star Wars," "The Lord of the Rings" and "Conan the Barbarian" one too many times. The plot develops in a manner that suggests the writers threw together an impromptu smorgasbord of genre tropes—there are witches, dragons, ghosts, assassins, grizzly bears, fair maidens, farmers destined for greatness, perilous waterfalls and cliffs, and a sacred red stone that Tom carries and Malkin wants—without bothering to add any fresh elements to the mix. The action sequences are standard, not overtly haphazard (they are choreographed well enough) but also nothing particularly memorable. The things that stand out are the little touches; there is a cool aerial shot of twisty, Tim Burton-esque angles as the camera nears a decrepit palace on the inside ridge of a mountain, and another atmospheric scene where Malkin returns to her long-dormant lair to find it overrun by spirits freely roaming the rooms.

Ben Barnes (2012's "The Words") is a snooze as Tom, innocuous and bland to a fault. Because this is such an archetypal hero, it was crucial that an actor be found with unique, distinguishable looks and personality. Instead, they found someone whose charisma equates to that of backyard shrubbery. Playing a kookier version of his title role in 2014's "The Giver," Jeff Bridges has been portraying far too many loose-cannon coots in recent years, and it's fast growing old. Bridges is better than this project, and his strength as a performer is in evidence as he sells a ridiculous accent and a ridiculous character without coming off too ridiculously. As for the typically magnificent Julianne Moore (2014's "Still Alice"), the world may never know what dark secrets from her past she was hoping to keep hidden by accepting the part of the evil Mother Malkin. Nevertheless, she holds onto her dignity and walks away with easily the most intriguing—and, some might argue, underutilized—role in the piece. Moore isn't given the chance to explore her witchy villain to her fullest capabilities, but she can rest assured that the CGI dragon she frequently transforms into retains her flowing red locks. A malevolent queen dead-set on taking over the world has got to look her best, after all.

Threadbare but not entirely inept, "Seventh Son" faithfully follows a formula and dares not diverge from it. Feeling as it has all been seen before because it kind of has, the film checks off the boxes of Swords-and-Sorcery Moviemaking 101 without bothering to dig deeper or come up with a new or imaginative angle to explore. The name of the game is Been-There-Don't-That, right down to witches bursting into ash when they die and curtains billowing in the illogical indoor breeze as Tom and amorous good witch Alice (Alicia Vikander) lounge in a chaste, clothed, post-coital afterglow. Production values—location shooting, art direction, costumes, etc.—are generally high, as one would expect from such a hefty budget, but how far does that really go when there is but a skeletal framework of indifference upon which to hang these solid attributes? Fortunately, there doesn't appear to be an eighth son waiting in the wings.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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