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Review: 'Mortal Instruments' adaptation in tune with fan base, staticky for non-readers

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Like the gaggle of teen supernatural films that proceeded it -- namely "The Twilight Saga" -- "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is no doubt intended for a specific audience. To that end, it will hit its target demographic viewers dead-center, but will also likely leave it's adult viewers -- at least the ones who haven't read the "The Mortal Instruments" books by Cassandra Clare -- scratching their heads.

The set-up feels vaguely familiar to the genre: Clary (Lily Collins) is a teen who leads a seemingly normal life in New York City, until she starts to envision strange symbols and beings that aren't visible to anybody else. Turns out her memories were repressed, and buried in her psyche is the reality that she's not a "mundane," as humans are called, but a "Shadowhunter" -- a group of half-angel warriors who are entrenched in an ancient battle with demons to protect the Earth.

After encountering two of the "Shadowhunters, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Alec (Kevin Zegers), Clary decides to join in the fight because her mother (Lena Heady) has been kidnapped and her life hangs in the balance of an alternate reality that's populated with demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other deadly forces.

See the trailer for "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" below.

At least judging the reaction of the film's youthful audience, "The Mortal Instruments" works wonders for those who've read the source material. The film clearly intends on playing to its built-in fan base, but for everybody else, the convoluted plot is just too confusing.

Interview: "The Mortal Instruments" stars Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower and Kevin Zegers

Of course, there are things that all audiences will recognize -- the requisite love triangle between Clary and two other hunky guys, for starters -- and once again, vampires and werewolves. At least the film has a sense of humor about itself, which takes it a long way away from the over-dramatic "Twilight" films. Bower especially lightens the mood with some welcome bits of comic relief. He's a gifted, underrated actor who finally gets to strut his stuff here.

At 130 minutes, "The Mortal Instruments" feels bloated, either because director Harald Zwart did as much as he could to please the fans of the book and stuffed everything in that he could; or maybe he went for broke because he might not get a chance to make another one (there are five books in the series so far). After all, studios aren't so friendly to sequel-making unless the original does some big business.

"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," rated PG-13, 2 1/2 stars out of four.

What other local critics are saying ...

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press gives the film 3 stars, saying the film is what "Twilight" might "have been like if it weren't so morose and boy crazy."

Colin Covert of the Star Tribune also gives the film 3 stars, saying its zippy energy "makes it easy to slide over half-baked plot points, but the puzzlers keep piling up." He also calls the conclusion a "messy, confused finale."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he also reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11.” As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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