‘Sixth Sense’ di­rec­tor Shya­malan mis­fires with ‘Last Air­ben­der’

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By John De­Fore

Af­ter such mis­fires and out­right em­bar­rass­ments as “The Lady in the Wa­ter” and “The Hap­pen­ing,” plenty of movie lovers have hoped “Sixth Sense” di­rec­tor M. Night Shya­malan would ven­ture be­yond his “Twi­light Zone” for­mat in search of a cre­ative rally. He did. It didn’t work. “The Last Air­ben­der,” based on Nick­elodeon’s an­i­mated TV se­ries “Avatar: The Last Air­ben­der,” is thor­oughly di­vorced from the twisty-turny ter­ri­tory for which Shya­malan is known, and the most gen­er­ous way of look­ing at it is to sug­gest that, when work­ing from some­one else’s story, the writer/di­rec­tor sim­ply couldn’t find it in him to do more than steer the ef­forts of the rea­son­ably tal­ented de­sign and ef­fects crews Para­mount Pic­tures hired for him.

The movie’s most glar­ing fail­ures are the two ar­eas for which Shya­malan is most di­rectly re­spon­si­ble: writ­ing the script and di­rect­ing the ac­tors.

There isn’t a sin­gle con­vinc­ing per­for­mance in the pic­ture, and the bad­ness of the act­ing is, bizarrely, pretty much in di­rect pro­por­tion to a char­ac­ter’s im­por­tance: While ac­tors in smaller roles might es­cape em­bar­rass­ment, those in the leads — like Ni­cola Peltz, who plays a girl try­ing to mas­ter her mag­i­cal abil­ity to move wa­ter telekinet­i­cally — seem to have been plucked off the street and thrown into the ac­tion with no guid­ance.

In Peltz’s de­fense, her char­ac­ter is stuck with the worst lines in a very bad script — so much so that it some­times seems her su­per­power is

in fact the abil­ity to state the ob­vi­ous. (As she and her brother to­gether stare at a furry fly­ing beast, for ex­am­ple, she tells him that “the crea­ture floats.”)

Given the dearth of tal­ent in the cast, the con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to hire white ac­tors to play he­roes who are Asian in the se­ries (and to put all the movie’s dark-skinned ac­tors in vil­lains’ roles) is the least of its wor­ries.

Fans who have fol­lowed the show on the small screen and are dy­ing to see a live-ac­tion ver­sion might be able to over­look some of the flaws of “Air­ben­der” and fo­cus on its CGI re-cre­ation of fan­tasy lands and its oc­ca­sion­ally di­vert­ing ac­tion, which weds mag­i­cal con­trol over the ele- ments to old-fash­ioned mar­tial-arts ges­tures.

But it’s hard to be­lieve many movie­go­ers will be sat­is­fied. And when the movie’s fi­nal, “Star Wars”-in­spired scene sets up a se­quel, most who know Shya­malan’s fil­mog­ra­phy will hope that the prom­ise of more “Air­ben­der” is as empty as the sug­ges­tion that his “Un­break­able” would be the start of a Bruce Wil­lis su­per­hero fran­chise. Rat­ing: PG for vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 43 min­utes. The­aters: Alamo Lake Creek, Alamo Vil­lage, Barton Creek, City Lights, Cine­mark Cedar Park, Cine­mark Gal­le­ria, Cine­mark Round Rock, Cine­mark South­park Mead­ows, Do­main, Gate­way, Lake­line, Metropoli­tan, Starplex, Tin­sel­town Pflugerville, West­gate.

Zade Rosen­thal para­mount pIc­tures

The char­ac­ter of Katara (Ni­cola Peltz) in­spired di­rec­tor M. Night Shya­malan to make ‘The Last Air­ben­der.’ Though she can move wa­ter, she’s stuck with the worst lines of a bad script.

para­mount pic­tures

The ‘Last Air­ben­der’ is Aang (Noah Ringer), who has the abil­ity to con­trol earth, fire and wa­ter as well as the air it­self.

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