Movie: The Last Airbender * *
(PG, General Release)
In recent years, M Night Shyamalan has become the Typhoid Mary of big-budget film-making, a bird of ill omen whose mere involvement in a project dooms it to box-office failure.
He hasn't had a hit film in at least seven years, which makes one wonder why he was chosen to direct this tricky action-fantasy based on the hit kid's TV show, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Even more puzzling was Paramount's decision to allow him to write the script as well. Because however entertaining his early fantasy thrillers (The Sixth Sense etc) were, Shyamalan is no Shakespeare, and his tendency towards pretentious windbaggery collides horribly with the faux mythology at the heart of this misguided and mismanaged project.
At an unspecified future date, the earth (if it even is earth -- I wasn't at all clear on the details) is inhabited by four distinct tribes of people who have special ties to the four ancient elements of earth, fire, air and water. They all have the power to use their element as a weapon, but, until 100 years ago, they all lived in peace thanks to the presence of the 'Avatar', an airbending monk with power over all the elements.
However, he has disappeared without a trace, and in his absence a bellicose firebending king called Lord Ozai has rushed to subjugate the world.
Things are looking grim until two teenage waterbenders discover a huge frozen ball in the southern ice caps. From it emerges a 12-year-old boy, Appa, who is the missing Avatar.
The trouble is he's a relatively untrained one, and he must master his powers before the Fire Lord carries out his fiendish plan to kill the ancient elemental spirits and control the entire earth.
Or something like that.
The Last Airbender's cod mythology would be tiresome enough, but Shyamalan's uniquely muddy way with words make the subtleties of this deeply unsatisfying story all but impenetrable.
A deadly dull cast and a personality-free hero don't help, and instead of having a story to enjoy we're bombarded with endless setpiece CGI extravaganzas.
It's a bad and boring film, and although Shyamalan clearly intends to shoot a sequel, I wonder if we will ever get to see it.