Reviews in Short

By Cole Smithey

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Aside from some non-PG-rated emphasis on an abusive home life and a lot of underwhelming CGI, "Percy Jackson" is a well-paced kids’ action picture that flirts with Greek mythology to create its otherworldly spectacle. Rising child star Logan Lerman plays Percy, a Manhattan teenager living with his mom Sally (Catherine Keener) and her lessthan-desirable boyfriend Gabe (Joe Pantoliano). During a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Percy discovers that he is the demi-god son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). It seems that the Lord of the Seas had a fling with Percy’s mortal mother. Someone has made off with the lightning rod that Zeus uses to control the heavens. Needless to say, the King of Olympus is plenty steamed about it. Believing Percy to be the thief, Zeus dictates that the bolt must be returned before the approaching solstice if an apocalyptic war with Hades (Steve Coogan) is to be avoided. Percy’s wheelchair-bound teacher Chiron (Pierce Brosnan) accompanies him to a camp for demi-gods where Percy hones his fighting skills. With fellow demi-gods Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, and his half-goat protector Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) Percy sets off to rescue his kidnapped mother from Hades and return Zeus’s purloined lightning rod. Uma Thurman makes the most of her limited screen time as a sunglasses-wearing Medusa. Director Chris Columbus and his crew take a literal approach to spectacle that denies the magnificent use of weirdness and scale that famed stop-action animator Ray Harryhausen brought to such myth-inspired classics as "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) and "Clash of the Titans" (1981). To think that young audiences in 1963 had a far more earth-shattering theater experience than today’s viewers will have with "Percy Jackson" speaks to the effect that "Harry Potter" films have had on reconfiguring what is expected of this kind of picture. It doesn’t help that Columbus directed "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" (2001) and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002) because it affords him the liberty of repurposing ideas and techniques he learned on those films, rather than thinking anew about how a modern movie with mythological characters should look and feel. "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" is a fair movie, but it’s no "Jason and the Argonauts." Rated PG. 120 mins. (B-)

Valentine’s Day. “Valentine’s Day” is yet another date movie that’s less than the sum of its parts. The sheer number of A-list actors involved spells trouble. Jessica Biel, Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, and Anne Hathaway provide cast padding for the likes of B-listers Taylor Swift, George Lopez, and Emma Roberts. Intertwining romantic threads weave a haphazard pattern in the City of Angels where Ashton Kutcher plays Reed, a pink-shirtwearing flower shop owner who prematurely proposes to Jessica Alba, playing a typecast role as Morley, a snooty little minx who rejects his offer. Reed’s platonic gal-pal-since-childhood, Julia (Jennifer Garner), is dating a doctor with big secrets, and has her own love lessons to learn. Hathaway falls on her actor’s sword as Liz, a temp office receptionist who has a sideline as a phonesex entertainer when she isn’t pursuing a "simple" relationship with Topher Grace as her doormat-tobe. Julia Roberts is Grace, a soldier flying home on a leave that will give her only a handful of hours to spend with her significant other before she has to return to duty. Bradley Cooper plays Grace’s seatmate Holden, who imposes his kinder-thanthou personality on her so that the audience is left waiting for the other shoe to drop. The filmmakers hoard personal revelations about Grace and Holden for a miscalculated emotional climax that discharges the last bit of helium from this heart-shaped fiasco. With half as many sub-plots the filmmakers might have been able to keep the plates of passion spinning. Screenwriter Katherine Fugate, whose credits include "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Max Steel," should stick to her day job as a TV writer. Hollywood is full up with hacks as it is. Rated PG-13. 125 mins. (C)

Dear John. Think of "Dear John" as post-911 America lite — very lite. Where a film like Kimberly Pierce’s "Stop-Loss" drew you into an unaffected universe of American military oppression its own troops, "Dear John" wants to punish and blame its Special Forces soldier John (Channing Tatum) via his head, heart, and libido. For as much blame as Nicholas Sparks deserves for writing the softsoap novel that this heart-sleeve mockery is based on, it’s Lasse Hallstrom’s lacking direction that perpetually pulls the audience out of the puffy romantic wartime equation onscreen. Certainly, Hallstrom films beautiful sun-kissed compositions that reek with the odorless endorphins of his lovestruck characters. But it’s not a style that serves Sparks’ already affected material. South Carolina’s warm summer beaches provide the tiny waves that John surfs on while visiting his autistic father (thanklessly played by Richard Jenkins), whose coin-collecting obsession substitutes for a thematic throughline. A beach pier meet-cute with rich girl Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) snowballs into a raging long-distance romance that gets a major monkeywrench tossed in when the attacks of 9/11 spell an extended tour of duty for John, who was on the brink of getting out when the attacks occurred. John finds out the hard way that love won’t wait forever, and the audience gets treated to the most bone-headed reaction shot of the decade, courtesy of Seyfried upon hearing about the death of a loved one. Even as a weepy, "Dear John" falls short of turning on the waterworks. Rated PG-13. 102 mins. (C-)