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Son of a Bore

 102 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Sergei Bodrov
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore
Seventh Son

The major movie studios’ quest for the next major YA film franchise is in some ways similar to ancient alchemists’ quest for the formula to turn lead into gold. Sometimes, they succeed, as with The Hunger Games. And sometimes their efforts sink like lead itself, as with Seventh Son.


The movie is based on a series of YA novels known collectively in the U.S. as The Last Apprentice and in author Joseph Delaney’s native England as The Spook’s Apprentice. The spook in question is not a ghost but rather a medieval knight who makes his living fighting all sorts of witches and demons. He is aided in his quest by an apprentice in training to succeed him, and only a seventh son of a seventh son has the qualities needed to be the spook’s apprentice.


At one time, there were hundreds of spooks going around the countryside serving as supernatural exterminators, but by the time Seventh Son begins, the only one left is the elderly, crotchety and possibly a bit senile Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges). His last apprentice (Game of Thrones’s Kit Harrington) served him for ten years but was killed in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), a very powerful witch. Now, Malkin is on the loose, looking for revenge against Gregory, who was once her lover, and recruiting an army of other witches and various underlings to help her.


For his part, Gregory has to scramble to find a new apprentice and winds up with Tom Ward (Ben Barnes). Although Ward does qualify as an apprentice in terms of being a seventh son, he at first seems particularly lacking in the qualities needed to be a successful apprentice. In addition, he seems rather gullible, falling for the charms of Alice (Alicia Vikander), a suspected witch. Naturally, the suspected witch is an actual witch, Mother Malkin’s niece to boot, and helps spy on Gregory for her aunt.


In some respects, Seventh Son is similar to the television series Grimm, as Gregory’s spook is similar to the title character in the series. Both have studied the various types of witches and demons they go up against and have compiled a lengthy dossier on their strengths, weaknesses, and how to dispose of them. Ironically, although Seventh Son has a much bigger budget than the television series does, Grimm is a lot more fun to watch.


The primary problem with Seventh Son is its lead actor. Jeff Bridges would seem to be perfect in the role of Gregory, but he looks like Don Quixote’s grandfather and talks like Rooster Cogburn after having undergone a lobotomy and attempting to speak with a load of marbles in his mouth. In a few scenes, he acts appropriately petulant, but mostly he just seems bored. Instead of serving as a Yoda-like mentor to Tom, he seems more intent in most scenes on contemplating his paycheck.


Ben Barnes doesn’t help Bridges out any either. He is exceedingly bland in the role of Tom and exhibits almost no chemistry with either Vikander or Bridges. He seems to acquire all the knightly skills he needs almost instantaneously when the plot so demands, but he comes across as if he were the lead in a high school production of The Princess Bride. In his ten minutes of screen time before his demise, Kit Harrington is far more energetic and charismatic as an apprentice than Barnes is in nearly two hours. I couldn’t help but feel that the movie would have been much better with Harrington as the romantic lead rather than Barnes.


The one person who seems to be having a lot of fun with her role is Moore, who overacts and vamps like crazy as the evil witch queen. She seems to be the only actor aware of how silly the entire script is, so she plays up the camp factor. In every scene, her emotional dials seem set on eleven. This type of overacting, the sort that Nicholas Cage has mastered in far too many movies like Seventh Son, is the only positive note in the movie.


Seventh Son is an expensive movie, but it’s also a ponderous one that usually takes itself far too seriously for its own good. Russian director Sergei Bodrov is better known for historical epics, and he completely lacks any feel for directing fantasy. The special effects lack scope and flair, and he tries to make the picture look as dirty and dingy as possible. The result is a movie about magic and witches that has no magical feel whatsoever.


Although Mother Malkin is supposedly the most powerful of witches, her powers seem limited to transforming herself into a flying dragon at times and impaling her enemies with her spiked tail. She also spends the entire movie stomping around a ruined castle with a relatively pitiable band of followers. Conveniently, Malkin has just enough flunkies on hand to give Gregory and Tom a fighting chance when they finally go after her, and even more conveniently, they only attack the heroes one at a time. Viewers hoping for a juicy final showdown between Gregory and Malkin will be in for a big disappointment, as Bodrov instead chooses to craft a bittersweet final encounter in which the two wonder about what might have been. Needless to say, Nicholas Sparks has nothing to worry about here.


Seventh Son sat on the shelf for about three years after principal filming was completed, supposedly to work on its special effects, and the movie seems obviously edited from a considerably longer original length. Even at 100 minutes, however, it moves sluggishly, especially when Mother Malkin isn’t onscreen. You don’t have to be a seventh son of a seventh son to realize that this movie is an inert mess with a possibly career-worst performance from Jeff Bridges. Indeed, it would appear that he labored throughout the entire film under a spell, one that cursed Seventh Son from the get go.

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Seventh Son (2014) on IMDb