Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
- Directed by Chris Columbus
- Written by Craig Titley
- Starring Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Catherine Keener
- Classification: PG
A word of caution to anyone tempted to procreate with a Greek deity: Turns out the greater the god, the poorer the parent. Consider the particular case of young master Percy Jackson, the offspring of Poseidon and Catherine Keener. Poor Percy has never laid eyes on his neglectful sea-ruling daddy and lives with his abandoned mom in a cramped New York walkup, where he's plodding through high school just like any other bored teen. What a waste of his demigod talents - the kid's not even on the swim team.
Happily, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief - based on the Rick Riordan novel but really a Harry Potter knock-off right down to that mouthful of a title - is about to change all that. Quickly, his buddy, the satyr, and his mentor, the centaur, rescue Percy (Logan Lerman) from the Muggles, er, mortals in Manhattan and pack him off to Hogwarts, sorry, Camp Half Blood to hone his godly skills. There, in the company of other castoffs from similarly transcendent couplings, he learns the value of vigorous exercise and (critically given his watery heritage) the importance of frequent hydration. Pretty soon he's kicking minotaur butt.
Anyway, for reasons that elude me, cranky old Zeus has wrongfully accused the lad of stealing his lightning bolt, thereby severely hampering the Great One's audio-visual mastery of the skies. Since the movie that follows is all dull thunder without a spark of illumination, it's apparent that director Chris Columbus (another Potter alumnus) has taken Zeus's dilemma too much to heart. Of course, Chris still has his CGI toolbox to play with, and say this for the fellow: From that centaur on down, his special effects are a real horse's ass.
But back to our alleged lightning thief who, along with that horny satyr and Athena's love-child Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), embarks on a cross-country quest, intent on reaching Hades and rescuing someone-or-other from its fiery pits. Well, as ever, the highway to hell is paved with good cinematic intentions: The group battle Medusa and her snaky coils in New England; then take on Hydra and his many heads in Nashville; and later consort with the lotus-eaters in (where else?) Las Vegas. So it's a road flick here, but there's precious little motion in the picture - Columbus keeps slipping the clutch on the action scenes and stalling the movie. Far more impressive is the product placement: Detroit will be delighted to know that a demigod's ride of choice is a Ford pickup.
Continuing westward ho, the trio reach the coast and, after some digging, seem surprised to learn that Hades is located in the nether regions of Hollywood. Hell, any working critic could have told them that. Less predictable is our discovery that the lord of the underworld is none other than Steve Coogan, decked out for the occasion in a rocker's leather pants and dishevelled 'do. Here, I'd like to be able to issue a High Camp alert, to reassure you that Coogan & company are treating this material with an entertaining measure of ironic disrespect. Alas, not really - dutifully Potteresque it begins, and dutifully Potteresque it ends.
Perhaps such reverence will sit well with Riordan's callow readers. The rest of us are left to ponder the coincidence that Percy Jackson & The Olympians was shot in Vancouver, where those other Olympians, demigods for a televised fortnight, are now poised to begin their own quest. There, on the tops of mountains, heaven is owning the podium. Here, in the limbo of Hollywood, the wise will merely rent - on some distant rainy Saturday when the kids are restless.