Lily Collins plays Clary Fray, a half-angel Shadowhunter, in 'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.'
By Scott Bowles
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones can't decide which franchise it wants to ape: Twilight, Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings.
So it tries to mimic all three, leaving this young-adult novel adaptation (* ½ out of four; rated PG-13; opens Wednesday nationwide) with a nasty split personality. Though it has flashes of promise, Bones traces the footsteps of its fantasy film predecessors too closely to blaze anything close to an original narrative.
Based on the first book of the six-novel series by Cassandra Clare, Bones tells the story of Clary Fray (Lily Collins), a New York teen entering that awkward demon phase. Seems that everywhere she turns, Clary finds warlocks, werewolves and just about every creature to grace an Abbott & Costello movie; she's like Buffy the vampire seer.
After an effectively staged demon-angel battle involving Clary's mom, Jocelyn (Game of Thrones' Lena Headey), Clary learns that she is the descendant of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret society of half-angel soldiers who protect the world from demons (though not zombies - those are silly Hollywood creations, apparently).
It doesn't take long for Clary to team up with a band of humans and angel hybrids that could have come from Hogwarts grad school: There's dorky Simon (Robert Sheehan), the sidekick who provides the laughs; Isabelle (Jemima West), the sexy Shadowhunter to keep the fanboys interested; and Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), the Shadowhunter love interest who is meant to stir memories of Robert Pattinson but looks a lot like a male Kate Moss.
Together they head to an alternate New York called Downworld, which is a lot like the regular New York but with worse bathrooms. There, the evil Valentine (Jonathyn Rhys Meyers) awaits.
If Bones finds a rhythm, it's when the film takes cues from The Lord of the Rings, particularly its demon soldiers. The movie is slickly shot, briskly paced and replete with expensive effects.
But director Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid reboot) drains anything approaching tension. This is a film geared to audiences not quite ready for The Hunger Games, and Bones won't test kids' nerves. At slightly over two hours, though, it will test parents' resolve to remain awake.
Credit Bones with putting female characters in first-rate action scenes. But even they can't overcome writing that occasionally borders on monstrous.