‘Seventh Son’ squanders A-list talent

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In dice, seven is considered a lucky number. However, watching the fantasy film, “Seventh Son” is more akin to rolling snake eyes.

The opening scene of “Seventh Son,” is horribly decontextualized. It portends a work that is a muddled mess. In it, Master John Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is sitting alone in a dimly lit tavern, eating dinner and quaffing a mug of ale. As church bells ring an alarm, his meal is interrupted by a man, who demands his assistance. When Master Gregory does not immediately capitulate, the man draws his sword. He fails to anticipate that Master Gregory is a skilled swordsman, who easily defeats the brash stranger.

It is unclear what is going on here narratively. However, two things are ineluctably clear. Jeff Bridges is sporting a stringy, elongated beard, which is a totally disconcerting. If that doesn’t distract you, Bridges’ ill-considered accent certainly will. He delivers his lines in an inscrutable manner, which makes it impossible to divine what he is even saying. Alas, “Seventh Son,” is devoid of deciphering subtitles, which it desperately calls out for.

In a horse-drawn wagon, Master Gregory rushes off with Billy Bradley (Kit Harrington from “Game of Thrones”). The latter was also in the opening scene, but we still don’t know who he is. Of course, for that matter, we still don’t know what the deal is with Master Gregory. Where is he headed? Why is going there? Why does he insist in speaking in a mush-mouthed fashion? Is he playing a cruel practical joke on the audience?

Master Gregory arrives at a church where he is confronted by a young girl, who is enshackled in chains because she is possessed. Master Gregory exorcises the child’s demonic spirit, who turns out to be Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), the head witch. She can shift back and forth between human and dragon form. Later, we see that her primary henchman, Radu (Djimon Hounsou), can make a similar transformation.

Master Gregory manages to trap Mother Malkin in a metal cage. However, before he can slam the door shut, she snatches Billy as her captive. Undaunted by the fact that Billy is trapped inside, Master Gregory throws fuel in the cage and lights it on fire.  And you thought that your boss was bad!

Mother Malkin sprouts wings and breaks out of this makeshift prison. However, Billy is burnt to a crisp. It is a small price for him to pay to escape this horrendous film.

At this belated juncture, we learn that Master Gregory is a spook. That means that he fights evil spirits. Master Gregory is the last surviving member of an elite group of knights, who were designated as the Falcon. Billy had been his most trusted protégé. Now, he’ll need to find a replacement.

Master Gregory heads to a remote pig farm. There, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes, Caspian X in two of the “The Chronicles of Narnia” films) resides with his impoverished family. He is the seventh son of a seventh son. As such, Tom is supposedly blessed with special powers. If properly cultivated, this will make Tom an ideal replacement apprentice for Master Gregory. To purchase Tom as a protégé, Master Gregory pays his mother (Olivia Williams) with a bag of gold.

There is little time for Master Gregory to train Tom. In a week, there will be a once a century blood moon. Then, a battle royale will ensue between the forces of good and evil.

Fans of “The Big Lebowski” may have understandably looked forward to the first screen reunion of Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore in 17 years. They will be sorely disappointed. There is no chemistry between the two, even though their characters were supposedly once paramours. For her lead performance as a woman with premature Alzheimer’s disease in “Still Alice,” Moore was recently nominated for an Oscar. She is widely considered a favorite to win. Bridges has not been so lucky since his own brilliant, Oscar-nominated performance as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ remake of “True Grit.” He has been in the trio of stinkbombs, “R.I.P.D.,” “The Giver,” and now, “Seventh Son.”

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ben Barnes in a scene from "Seventh Son." (AP Photo/Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures, Kimberly French)

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ben Barnes in a scene from “Seventh Son.” (AP Photo/Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures, Kimberly French)

This is the first English language film by Russian director, Sergei Bodrov. Two of his previous films, “Prisoner of the Mountains” and “Mogol: The Rise of Genghis Khan,” won Nika Awards (the Russian analogue of the Oscars) for best film and best director. Despite this impressive résumé, this vehicle does not evidence Bodrov’s proficiency as a helmsman.

“Seventh Son” is adapted from “The Spook’s Apprentice” (titled “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” in the United States). It is the first book of a thirteen-tome series by the prolific, English novelist, Joseph Delaney, collectively called, “’The Wardstone Chronicles.” Co-screenwriter, Steven Knight, has previously penned three excellent screenplays, “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Eastern Promises,” and “Locke.” His collaborator, Charles Leavitt, is credited with an altogether decent work, “Blood Diamond.” However, their collective screenplay for “Seventh Son” is inexplicably abominable.

Despite the involvement of Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, two A-list actors, and an acclaimed director, “Seventh Son” is subverted by a screenplay that deserves an F grade.

*1/2 PG-13 (for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images, and brief strong language) 102 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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