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M. Night Shyamalan's Last Airbender

Confusing! Drab! Sluggish! Where's the twist?

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The Last Airbender
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Paramount Pictures
Opens July 1

While the message boards continue to fume with charges of racism aimed at writer-director M. Night Shyamalan for changing cartoon characters from Asian to Caucasian (except the villains), let's pursue a less arguable crime—that of lousy filmmaking. Adapted from a Nickelodeon cartoon about a young boy who's part Luke Skywalker, part Neo, and all heroic hodgepodge, this is one muddled attempt at franchise-making: confusing, drab, sluggish. (Ugly, too, if you're forced to see it in 3-D.) Aang (Noah Ringer) is the boy savior who disappeared 100 years ago and took with him the power to, ya know, bend air—which is to say, manufacture poorly computer-generated gusts of wind after performing what appears to be capoeira. Aang was frozen, somehow, in a ball of ice beneath a pond, and, in his absence, the Fire Benders (led by Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi as the main—and hilarious—baddie) have seized control of the planet and banished the Earth Benders and Water Benders to ghettos. Aang, naturally, will liberate them if only he can learn how to use The Force . . . or the Matrix . . . or something? Perhaps followers of the series will be more forgiving; this installment—with a sequel-teasing final scene that feels awfully desperate—is written entirely in fanboy shorthand. But to those of us who lose patience quickly with blurry, poorly acted, clunky kung-fu movies, The Last Airbender appears to have been shot using stereo instructions. Worse still: This could have been directed by anyone. Or no one.

 
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