Seeing Sergey Bodrov’s Seventh Son almost immediately after the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending was probably a bad idea, but that’s the way the movie times worked out. Where Jupiter Ascending is, if anything, too imaginative for its own good, Seventh Son seems barely sentient. The most notable thing about it is that even with the amazing aggregation of asininity crammed into its running time, it still manages be a thudding bore. At first, it didn’t seem like it was going to live down to its twice-delayed-several-years-on-the-shelf-dead-of-winter release. Oh, it starts off in full-on goofy mode, but for about 10 minutes the movie seemed to be in on the joke and reveled in its camp factor. By the time that the evil Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) got a look at her nemesis Master Gregory’s (Jeff Bridges) latest apprentice (Kit Harington) and cooed, “A boy! I like boys,” I was ready to settle for a pleasant surprise. Then the apprentice got roasted, Mother Malkin ran off to prepare for world domination or some such unpleasantness and it all went to hell.
The big question about this movie is who or what it’s aimed at. Yes, I know it’s based on (or “inspired by”) a Brit YA novel called The Spook’s Apprentice. From what I can tell, “inspired by” means that it uses this story as a springboard (the story itself is too thin for a feature film). It hardly matters, since the story amounts to nothing more than the witch is loose and will attain some sort of superpower at the setting of the “blood moon” (these happen every hundred years), so our heroes head to her lair to stop her. Oh, sure, there’s some doo-daddery glued onto this — including a romance between Gregory’s new apprentice, Tom Ward (the ever vapid Ben Barnes), and the half-human niece of Mother Malkin, Alice (the equally bland Alicia Vikander) — but as far as the plot, that’s about it. Add monsters, assorted assassins, a love-story past between Gregory and Malkin, and you have the perfect recipe for a very dull two hours at the movies. This is theoretically enlivened by the obligatory — and pretty tiresome — big battle that climaxes all these movies. There is a large gap between the theoretical and the actual practice.
Apart from some pretty impressive production design by the great Dante Ferretti — who has designed movies for Fellini, Neil Jordan, Julie Taymor, Brian De Palma, Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese — what can be said in favor of Seventh Son? Certainly not the bombastic score by Marco Beltrami and not the screenplay by Charles Leavitt and (shockingly) Steven Knight. It most assuredly isn’t the plodding direction by Sergey Bodrov, who is highly regarded for things like Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007), which I have never seen. This movie does not make me anxious to broaden my knowledge of his work. (Not that I’m likely to run right out to see a movie about Genghis Khan anyway.)
No, I fear the only value — such as it is — lies in the film’s camp element. I would call it unintentional mirth — and some of it is. The camera swooping over lush green mountains that make you think you’ll soon see Julie Andrews running at you singing cannot be the effect they were aiming for. However, I’m not at all sure that what Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore are doing is unintentional. Perhaps I am wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I cannot imagine they didn’t realize they were in a lox of a movie that was well past its expiration date and chose to overact and camp it up as the only possible approach. Granted, Bridges has done this kind of grumble and mumble stuff in bad movies before, so it may be a default setting for him. I’ve never seen Moore go over the top like this. Then again, I’ve never before seen her decked out in black feathers, talons and, finally, make-up that calls to mind nothing so much as a raccoon. Regardless, when either of them is on screen, there is a certain entertainment value — for what that’s worth. Rated PG-13 for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language.