If the Brothers Grimm had devoted themselves to farce rather than scary fairy tales, they might have produced something like Seventh Son, a whacko sword-and-sorcery exercise.
Jeff Bridges adopts a ridiculous accent that sounds like John Houseman with a mouth full of straw to play Master Gregory. He's a doddering old mead pot - except when the agents of dark magic emerge. Then he becomes a whirling Jet Li dervish (or at least his body double does).
His nemesis is a witch named Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), who frequently turns into a flying Rasta dragon. You can tell when she's at her most evil because the makeup artist makes Moore's eyebrows disappear.
Who knows what induced these two to sign on for this paltry project? At least they're made to look appropriately seasoned.
The two youngsters who participate in the romantic subplot look like they just stepped out of an Abercrombie catalog rather than an Abelardian castle.
Alicia Vikander plays Alice, Mother Malkin's niece. She's half witch and half Gypsy, although what that's supposed to mean is never explained.
Ben Barnes (Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia films) is Master Gregory's apprentice, a job with a high turnover rate. In fact, if you're seeing this film because you're a fan of Game of Thrones' Kit Harrington, don't dawdle in the lobby.
Director Sergei Bodrov dresses up the sets and mise en scene to look right. But everything else in Seventh Son is flimsy, including the silly, swirly special effects. There isn't a moment of suspense in the film, which costars Djimon Hounsou and Olivia Williams. To a large degree, that's because there are no battles - every fight is a walkover, ending with the first blow.
The real culprit is the script, a cobble of clichés. That, in turn, makes the performances seem exceedingly strenuous. It's certainly not a children's story, although it seems to have been written by one.
Seventh Son may try to harness alchemy and witchcraft, but sadly, there's no magic here.
Seventh Son *1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Sergei Bodrov. With Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander. Distributed by Universal Studios.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: Area theaters.