The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

In the unending search for the next big Twilight, studios certainly have a lot of literary material to choose from. Beautiful Creatures and the upcoming Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Vampire Academy franchises are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stories of supernatural girls and the boys they love.

This weekend The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is added to the mix, in the first of what will surely be a bunch of films based on Cassandra Clare’s novels. And while the idea of a girl who didn’t know she was a demon hunter is a clever one, the movie ends up feeling way too much like Twilight… and Harry Potter… and even Percy Jackson (with, oddly, a little Star Wars thrown in for good measure) to be taken as anything more than a cheap and derivative lunge at the young adult crowd.

After witnessing a murder (that no one else could see) in a goth nightclub, young Clary Fray (Lily Collins) is visited by the killer, a Shadowhunter named Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower). Jace explains that the victim was, in fact, a demon who was after the Mortal Cup, a magical vessel that has immense powers, especially if it ends up in the wrong hands.

Later, after some gnarly demons break into Clary’s house, kidnap her mother, and almost kill Clary, Jace takes her to The Institute, the Shadowhunter headquarters. There, Institute honcho Hodge Starkweather (Jared Harris) tells Clary the truth about her identity: her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) was once a Shadowhunter and is now the only person who knows where the Mortal Cup is hidden.

Clary and Jace, along with Simon and a few other Shadowhunters, then head off on a mission to find the Cup before the leader of the demons, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), does.

Despite that admittedly interesting setup, there’s actually precious little that works in City of Bones. First-timer Jessica Postigo’s screenplay feels like a slap-dash attempt at cramming 600 pages of text into 130 minutes. It’s hurried and scatter-shot, trying more to illicit cheap thrills (it doesn’t) and keeping the audience entertained with action, chases, and fighting (it doesn’t) than focusing on the characters. And any movie that completely squanders the acting talents of Headey and Harris as egregiously as City of Bones does can’t be taken seriously.

Director Harald Zwart (2010’s The Karate Kid) is certainly aware of his target audience, but the final product shows that he doesn’t give them very much credit. Even the most doe-eyed Bella-n-Edward fan will roll her eyes at the greenhouse scene when Clary and Jace share a first kiss… under a well-timed sprinkler… as a cheesy pop song blares underneath.

Though Bower (and his Zoolander-like cheekbones) spends the better part of the film mumbling and giving “the smolder”, Collins actually manages to turn in a decent performance, especially given the material, but in the end City of Bones is too weighed down by a cheesy script full of random plot twists and melodrama to be anointed the next big thing.

More like just another thing.

2/5 stars