REVIEW: The Last Airbender

8 07 2010

You’ve almost assuredly heard all the bad buzz surrounding “The Last Airbender.” And yes, it’s pretty bad.  But don’t let the 9% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes convince you that this some sort of cataclysmic flop.  It’s no worse than any of the other mindless, soulless blockbusters that studios engineer to turn our suffering into their profit.

The root of the movie’s problems is producer, writer, and director M. Night Shyamalan and his decade-old hubris from creating one of the greatest thrillers ever made, “The Sixth Sense.”  The allure wore off in 2004 with the release of “The Village,” and it’s been all downhill since.  No longer can he coast on the glory of that one movie; you can’t feed America crap and then fall back on dusty laurels.  One can only hope that this wakes Shyamalan from his stupor, and he will go back to making good movies.  That would make one good thing that could come from “The Last Airbender.”

Everything suffers from Shyamalan’s ignorance.  His script is unimaginative and dull.  Simply put, he just cannot handle themes or dialogue.  The plot does move, although at the pace of molasses sliding down a mountain.  It’s no simple task to dumb down genocide, but Shyamalan does it with ease (and that’s not a compliment).

The acting is all pretty laughable, even Dev Patel (for whom I yelled “JAMAL!” upon seeing).  I normally don’t think ethnic casting too big of an issue, but it did bug me that the three leads were white and everyone else was Indian.  Unfortunately, the worst among the ranks is Noah Ringer, who plays top dog Aang thanks to his discovery at an open casting call.  Apparently, they weren’t looking for anyone with any talent or acting skills.  You could have stuck one of the E-Trade babies in the movie and gotten a more emotionally compelling and appropriate performance.  Never did I think I would see the day when I would pine for models turned actors, but watching “The Last Airbender” made me do just that.

The visuals aren’t terrible, and the bending of the elements looked pretty cool.  I could even get over the fact that the art of bending looks like a step-by-step instructional for urban dancing.  But once again, Shyamalan undoes what the visuals could have done for the movie by sculpting horrible action sequences.  His use of slow-motion is more than excessive, it’s outrageous.  And when the adrenaline-fueled action moves as slowly as the rest of the movie, you know you’re in for a painful ride.  C- /