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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

by on February 12, 2010
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The studio would not screen “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” for critics here in Indianapolis. It’s something that’s been happening more and more lately. Once, it was only tiny little indie films. Now, mainstream movies like this are skipped.

In this case, it was especially curious because several weeks ago they contacted several local critics and offered interviews with the cast. We took them up on it — you can read the Q&A here — but still no screening. Exasperating.

Usually when a film is not screened, it’s because the studio knows it has a dog on its hands. “Percy” is not a dog of a movie; it’s actually a pretty good one. It’s a pleasant enough action/adventure story for the preteen crowd — sort of a Greek mythology version of “Harry Potter.”

Instead of spells, Percy Jackson (a winning Logan Lerman — one to watch) and his cohorts have gods for parents: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Athena, Hermes, etc. This makes them demi-gods — humans with magical powers.

Percy thinks he’s a regular kid with dyslexia and ADHD, a loser whose mother (Catherine Keener) is married to a slob of a step-father. His only friend is Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a cripple on crutches.

But when minotaurs and furies start materializing out of thin air to attack him, it’s a clue that his daddy is actually Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). It seems some miscreant has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt, and he thinks it’s Percy. Unless the lightning is returned, the gods of Olympus are going to war.

The movie is based on a popular series of books by Rick Riordan. Screenwriter Craig Titley and kid-centric director Chris Columbus — who directed the first two “Harry Potter” movies — aim for a slapdash of PG-rated mayhem mixed in with some Greek Mythology 101.

In their reckoning, the Earth is populated by hundreds of offspring of the gods, who have a tendency to visit and “hook up” with mortals and then skedaddle. Percy and his ilk think they’ve been abandoned by their parents — a none-too-subtle metaphor for the divorce epidemic.

Percy is taken to Camp Half-Blood — think Hogwarts as a summer retreat — to train and learn about his destiny.

Grover is revealed as a satyr, half-man, half-goat and all girl-loving horndog. The headmaster is a centaur who had been posing as a wheelchair-bound professor at his school, played by Pierce Brosnan. Luke (Jake Abel) is the friendly son of Hermes who takes Percy into his confidence. Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, is the baddest warrior in camp.

(No hint as to why all the demigod students happen to be between 16 and 18 years of age — was the early 1990s the Summer of Love for gods coming to Earth to knock boots?)

The plot is fairly simplistic and silly, something involving finding their way into Hell to confront Hades, who’s taken Percy’s mother hostage. First they have to find three magical pearls that will allow them to return from the fiery depths.

This, of course, involves fighting increasingly dangerous critters pulled from the pages of Greek and Roman lore. Uma Thurman has a nice cameo as a sunglasses-wearing medusa. Other star turns include Sean Bean as Zeus, Rosario Dawson as the spouse of Hades, and Steve Coogan as the original man in black himself.

“Percy Jackson” is certainly not a great film, but it’s well-executed family entertainment that will keep even parents reasonably entertained.

The only supernatural mystery is why the studio didn’t want critics to see it.

3 stars