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Movie review: 'Mortal Instruments' plays off better fantasy titles

Published August 23, 2013 9:35 pm

Review • 'City of Bones' echoes 'Harry Potter' and 'Twilight.'
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I have never read Cassandra Clare's five (and counting) books in "The Mortal Instruments" series – but I have read all seven "Harry Potter" books, seen the eight movies made from them, and watched all five "Twilight" movies, so I recognize the raw materials that are mixed up in "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones."

Like Harry, Clarissa "Clary" Fray ("Mirror, Mirror's" Lily Collins) begins with no idea that she has a magical background. No, she and her buddy Simon (Robert Sheehan) are "mundanes," this series' version of "muggles." So Clary is freaked out when she continually draws an odd rune symbol — and when she witnesses a murder in a Brooklyn nightclub.

One of the killers confronts Clary. He's Jace Weyland ("Twilight" alumnus Jamie Campbell Bower), and he's a Shadowhunter, an angelic figure tasked with battling evil demons — including the one he dispatched in the club. Clary is a witch with angelic tendencies, we learn, because she can see Jace but Simon cannot (until the script arbitrarily decides that he can).

Clary learns quickly that Jace and his Shadowhunters are engaged in a never-ending war against evil, embodied by Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a former Shadowhunter who went over to the Dark Side. (And if you think that's the only "Star Wars" reference you'll get in this movie, think again.)

Valentine's minions kidnap Clary's mom, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), a former Shadowhunter who has hidden some magical McGuffin called The Mortal Cup. Jace's mentor, Hodge (played by Jared Harris, filling the Dumbledore-ish role his father Richard did in the first two "Potter" movies), tells Clary that if she finds the cup, she'll find her mother.

Rookie screenwriter Jessica Postigo Paquette, adapting Clare's book, throws in nasty vampires and friendly werewolves. Also, in the "Twilight" tradition, there are the makings of a love triangle — though I don't think girls are going to sign up for "Team Jace" or "Team Simon" with the same zeal that the Twi-Hards applied to their favorite characters.

Director Harald Zwart, who made the remake of "The Karate Kid" with Jaden Smith, strings together one chaotic action sequence after another. Mostly, the loud special effects do the work that good actors and coherent screenwriting used to fulfill.

All of this may have been barely acceptable if the pretty cast — led by Collins and Bower, and including Kevin Zegers and Jemima West as more Shadowhunters — came off as authentic people rather than posers out of a fashion shoot. In the end, this "City of Bones" is all gnawed-over scraps from other, better movies.


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'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones'

Witches battle demons in Brooklyn, in this derivative mishmash of familiar young-adult plotlines.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens Wednesday, August 21.

Rating • PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content

Running time • 130 minutes.