When Jeff Bridges is smiling, the world smiles with him. It's practically a natural law; The Dude is so darn affable. Playing a drunken and bitter, but still butt-kicking, knight in the Legendary Pictures fantasy-adventure Seventh Son, he clearly had a blast. Whatever the film's other faults, it's undeniably exhilarating to watch the Oscar winner play another bonkers and bearded antihero tangled in obsession.
Unfortunately, his is not the character at the center of this wannabe epic. And, regrettably, Seventh Son has little else to offer.
Based on the bestselling Joseph Delaney novel The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch, the film follows Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), a farmhand ripped away from his poor family to join the ranks of knights sworn to protect humans against the likes of monsters, magic and queen witch Mother Malkin (five-time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore). Master Gregory (Bridges) is the last of these knights, and Tom's reluctant and snarling mentor. On their quest to defeat this most wicked witch, the pair battles boggarts, poltergeists, shape-shifters and dragons. And of course Tom falls for a pretty -- and possibly not evil -- young half-witch named Alice (the always-enchanting Alicia Vikander).
To the credit of director Sergei Bodrov, Seventh Son has some standout moments, as when Master Gregory battles a rival while never spilling his stein of ale, or a four-armed witch wields four blades to fight back a quartet of soldiers. Likewise, the CG effects are pretty stellar, with Moore and her minions shifting seamlessly from flesh-and-blood witches to sleek cheetahs, beastly bears and towering dragons. But these moments of impressive effects and enticing action are undercut by a bland leading man and an undercooked plot.
The film starts off strong, with Moore and Bridges reuniting for the first time since 1998’s The Big Lebowski and happily digging into these larger-than-life characters with rousing proclamations, a deadly battle and lots of fire. But then they separate, and we're given Tom, who is as dull as Barnes is blandsome. Despite being named for him, Seventh Son refuses to ground Tom's character, so it's difficult to care much what happens to him. Before long, I stopped trying, reveling instead in the aforementioned action, special effects and over-the-top performances by Moore and Bridges.
Bridges is best bearded. Here he looks like Don Quixote, facial hair pointed, armor askew and a disposition of wavering coherence. In the rare fantasy movie in which everyone has American accents for no apparent reason, Bridges sounds like his mouth is filled with marbles. Or perhaps that's merely all the scenery he's chewing. No matter what the abysmal, exposition-laden dialogue – after all, why show something when a character can mutter out plot points? -- or the preposterous point mechanizations, Bridges is committed and campy, but always mesmerizing.
Moore also seems to relish in the fantasy, happily strutting in luxurious costumes festooned with feathers and punctuated with metal talons and a tail that acts like a sentient barbed whip. She eats blood cakes with a girlish glee and delivers withering one-liners and come-hither stares with a commanding authority and sensual danger. Both veterans bring dimension and vitality to this otherwise-uninspiring film. It's a shame the movie decides to keep them apart for the majority of its runtime.
Seventh Son is a crudely condensed adaptation, hastily delivering complex backstories through messy monologues, and omitting details that could’ve given its hero and journey much-needed depth. It feels like reading a novel with random pages lost: You can still follow the broad strokes, but you’ll grow irked at what you might be missing. The more missed opportunities of Seventh Son stack up, the less fun it becomes. When it finally reaches its finale, it’s full of fighting but free of logic.
Tonally, the film is a mess. Some characters are practically cartoons, while its hero is a forgettable blur of good looks and stunned glances. Some scenes are outright loony while others strive for gut-wrenching drama. In the end, it falls into an uncanny valley between truly great fantasy (The Lord of the Rings) and so-bad-it's-good fantasy (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters). Which is to say, Seventh Son isn’t good enough to be great, and not fun enough to be a guilty pleasure. Instead, it's merely disappointing.
Seventh Son opens today nationwide.