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'Percy Jackson' movie is all Greek to fans of the books

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (PG)

2 out of 4 stars

For those who find the "Harry Potter" franchise too dark, intense or cerebral, there's "Percy Jackson." The first in what could turn out to be five films, "The Lightning Thief" is a shameless Potter knock-off that forgoes things like nuance and depth and replaces them with broad family action and humor and a simpleton plot.

As disposable and instantly forgettable as it may be, the Jackson series of books (penned by Rick Riordan) deserves high marks for taking what is generally regarded as a stuffy and arcane literary genre (Greek mythology) and made it if not "cool" at least interesting and fun for the 'tween and under set. With any luck, the hordes that gobbled up Riordan's books and those who see this movie might actually take a leap and crack open a dusty old edition of something by Homer, Herodotus or Virgil to see where it all started.

Where Harry Potter was the progeny of two wizards, Percy (Logan Lerman) is the son of a human mother (a mostly wasted Catherine Keener) and the Greek god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). Diagnosed with the catch-all ADD disease and dyslexia, Percy is an unremarkable New York teen who butts heads with his lout of a stepfather (Joe Pantoliano) and as no idea of his real father's identity.

With Percy's enemies knocking at the gates, his two earthly guardians reveal the identity of his father and his ultimate mission which of course, throws him for a loop. This is the point where the Potter similarities take over in earnest.

Percy's first stop is Camp Half-Blood where he and other demigods receive training. It is overseen by Chiron (Pierce Brosnan), a centaur who provides tough love and Dumbeldore-ish sage advice. Sidekick number one, the satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), will act as Percy's Ron Weasley only with more personality. Sidekick number two is fellow demigod Annabeth (Alexandra Daldario), the daughter of Athena who, like Hermione to Harry, will go from being a quasi-adversary to possible love interest.

With the Power Teen Trio assembled, the journey begins to clear Percy's name and identify the person(s) who stole Zeus' lightning. To aid in the search Percy is given a magic pen, a spiffy, multi-use shield and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers with wings.

In a race to beat the clock and avoid a heavenly war, Percy and his mates criss-cross the US on a scavenger hunt of sorts that puts them in the company of some interesting, if not altogether menacing foes.

The first and best of the lot is Medusa (Uma Thurman looking a little too much like Madonna), whose hair is a mass of snakes and whose gaze can turn people into stone. Pouring on the camp, Thurman milks the part for all it's worth and delivers most of the film's few laughs.

Coming in a close second and third are Steve Coogan as Hades, the brother of Poseidon and Zeus, and his consort Persephone (Rosario Dawson), aka, Queen of the Dead. Their S&M-inspired costumes and lair in Hell looks as if it was designed by Bob Guccione and originally intended as the backdrop for a men's magazine photo shoot.

For Lerman, who was essentially the only good thing going on in last year's "My One and Only," the role of Percy will certainly provide him with a higher profile but does little to challenge him as an actor. In what is a truly odd bit of Hollywood timing, Lerman has been just recently pegged to play the title role in the 2011 reboot of "Spider-man," which could present him with quite a big scheduling problem if this first "Percy" leads to second.

If you or your children are fans of the books, prepare yourself for a movie that strays far from Riordan's original text. The changes to the characters and plot are too numerous to list here but a quick Internet search will fill you in on all the details. If the reaction of the mostly younger preview audience was any kind of indicator, about half of the book's followers won't like these changes in the least. (Fox)