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Clash of the Titans

Pic boasts 3D imagery and kinetic action that can't obscure a movie that is, finally, pretty flat.

With:
Perseus - Sam Worthington Zeus - Liam Neeson Hades - Ralph Fiennes Calibos/King Acrisius - Jason Flemyng Io - Gemma Arterton Andromeda - Alexa DavalosDanae - Tine Stapelfeldt Draco - Mads Mikkelsen

Even more haphazardly plotted than the original, “Clash of the Titans” boasts 3D imagery and kinetic action that can’t obscure a movie that is, finally, pretty flat. Influenced almost as much by “The Lord of the Rings” as a 1981 namesake most notable for Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects, the technical upgrade doesn’t improve the clunky mythological underpinnings, while the script ratchets up the man-vs.-the-gods quotient. Result feels mostly like a (very expensive) kids’ pic, and international prospects appear more promising than domestic box office, which, after a muscular opening — with apologies to the gods — should be somewhat less than titanic.

There’s always the risk of a camp factor when dealing with the denizens of Mt. Olympus, sword-and-sandal derring-do and earnest utterances like “Release the Kraken!” — which in some respects is part of the film’s charm. It’s just that, as directed by Louis Letterier (“The Incredible Hulk”) from an adaptation credited to a trio of writers, “Titans” is both dark and busy visually, and nearly devoid of humor. Indeed, the one memorable laugh, a fleeting reference to the first movie’s idiotic mechanical owl, will likely fly over much of the target audience’s heads.

An introductory sequence finds Perseus (played as an adult by Sam Worthington, looking buff but not blue fresh off “Avatar”), the bastard child of Zeus, being rescued and raised by a kindly fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite). Alas, their happy existence is disrupted by the angry lord of the underworld, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), who convinces his brother Zeus (Liam Neeson) that they must punish the city of Argos for daring to disrespect the gods.

“A new era has begun: The era of man!” the king proclaims, which does not sit well among the Olympians, triggering the decision to release a massive beast, the Kraken, to lay waste to Argos unless the king agrees to sacrifice his daughter, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).

So Perseus embarks on a quest to save the girl, one that includes tractor-trailer-sized scorpions, oracular witches and an inevitable showdown with Medusa, whose gaze turns men to stone. That scene — easily the most effective in the Harryhausen version — is more chaotic but considerably less impressive here.

There are a few new wrinkles to the story, the main ones being the gods’ heightened malevolence and Perseus’ disdain for his immortal heritage — prompting him to resist using his demigod-given gifts, among them a magic sword. That defiant, near-pigheaded attitude comes despite prodding from two Bond alumni: Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), a steely soldier accompanying him; and Io (Gemma Arterton), his beautiful guide.

Other than Mikkelsen, alas, the cast is largely wrestled into submission by the stilted dialogue. Fiennes, in particular, hisses most of his — looking and sounding a bit too much like a bearded Voldemort.

As for the action, everything is literally bigger but not necessarily better, including the gigantic Kraken, which now resembles “Return of the Jedi’s” Rancor monster but remains every bit as anticlimactic as it was three decades ago.

Technically, in fact, the effects are too frequently muddied by the pace at which they flash by, limiting opportunities to appreciate the combined animatronic, computer-generated and motion-capture visuals. The most satisfying creative element, actually, is Ramin Djawadi’s operatic score.

Given the mythological nature of the violence, were the movie a bit less dark it actually could have been pitched more to “PG” territory than to young adults, inasmuch as there’s limited bloodletting and scant mushy romance to distract from the adventure.

Once state-of-the-art, Harryhausen’s work is surely dated from a technical standpoint compared with the magic CGI can conjure; still, this “Titans” reboot merely demonstrates that building a more elaborate mousetrap doesn’t necessarily produce a more entertaining one.

Clash of the Titans

Production: A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Legendary Pictures of a Thunder Road Film/Zanuck Co. production. Produced by Basil Iwanyk, Kevin De La Noy. Executive producers, Richard D. Zanuck, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, William Fay. Directed by Louis Letterier. Screenplay, Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, based on the motion picture directed by Desmond Davis and written by Beverley Cross.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Peter Menzies Jr.; editors, Martin Walsh, Vincent Tabaillon; music, Ramin Djawadi; production designer, Martin Laing; supervising art directors, Troy Sizemore, Gary Freeman; costume designer, Lindy Hemming; sound (Dolby Digital-DTS Digital-SDDS), Ivan Sharrock; supervising sound editor, James Mather; visual effects supervisor, Nick Davis; prosthetics supervisor, Conor O'Sullivan; special effects and animatronics supervisor, Neil Corbould; stunt coordinator, Paul Jennings; associate producers, Karl McMillan, Brenda Berrisford; assistant director, Terry Needham; second unit director/camera, Martin Kenzie; casting, Lucinda Syson, Elaine Grainger. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, March 26, 2010. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 106 MIN.

Cast: Perseus - Sam Worthington Zeus - Liam Neeson Hades - Ralph Fiennes Calibos/King Acrisius - Jason Flemyng Io - Gemma Arterton Andromeda - Alexa DavalosDanae - Tine Stapelfeldt Draco - Mads MikkelsenWith: Pete Postlethwaite.

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