Hold off on that acceptance speech
There has been a lot of talk recently about a possible “Norbit effect” on this year’s Academy Awards race, a reference to the lowbrow 2007 comedy that supposedly killed Eddie Murphy’s shot at an Oscar. Murphy was considered the frontrunner to win the Best Supporting Actor prize for his role in the late 2006 release Dreamgirls, but his stock fell when atrocious-looking advertisements for Norbit flooded television screens in early 2007, and he eventually lost the award to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine.
This year, there are a couple of actors whose Oscar aspirations could get Norbit-ed by long-shelved duds from their past that have returned to haunt them. Most of the attention has focused on Eddie Redmayne, who was the coolest customer of the year on the festival/critics/press junket/awards show flesh-press circuit, but whose much-lauded performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything suddenly appears undermined by the derision heaped on his supporting turn in Jupiter Ascending.
Very little “Norbit effect” attention has been paid to Julianne Moore, the Best Actress favorite for her work in Still Alice, and one of the bored and slumming stars of Sergey Bodrov’s clattering fantasy Seventh Son. This is despite the fact that Seventh Son was released on the same day as Jupiter Ascending, took an even more tremendous dump at the box office, and features Moore indifferently executing the same sort of ham-fisted villain part for which Redmayne is garnering raspberries.
Seventh Son offers Moore the kind of over-the-top fantasy character that she has studiously avoided in her career—she plays Malkin, an evil dragon-witch who returns from a long imprisonment intending to take over the world (or destroy the world, or enslave the world, it’s never clear and no one cares). Moore looks amazing, and she gets to wear an oversized cowl, flirt with Olivia Williams, turn into a dragon and cackle maniacally, which is at least fun as novelty. However, it takes a certain type of high theatricality to sell a line like, “Help yourself to the blood cakes,” one that Moore does not possess.
Of course, Moore is not the only current or former Academy Award nominee wondering how they got tricked into making this lousy film. Two-time nominee Djimon Hounsou appears as one of Moore’s henchmen, and Oscar winner Jeff Bridges, who now specializes in over-the-top character parts, stars as a quirky-crusty spirit hunter named Master Gregory. Bridges does some really awful, hammy acting here, taking over the film as though taking over a child’s birthday party, and lately he seems headed on a dangerously Depp-like path towards irrelevance.
There are countless similarities between this film and 2013’s disastrous R.I.P.D., only here Bridges is given the flavorless Ben Barnes for an apprentice instead of the wisecracking Ryan Reynolds. Credit my preference for this film to my preference for Barnes’ blandness over Reynolds’ archness, and to the fact that the movie just keeps coming and coming. Seventh Son runs a relatively lean 102 minutes, and it feels as though generous chunks of plot and character development have been stripped away in favor of nonstop CGI action and peril.
The film is basically a rich man’s Uwe Boll version of Dungeons & Dragons—a lot of tacky visuals, world-building mumbo jumbo and gooey CGI creatures. It has the scale of a nine-figure studio blockbuster, but not the look. Seventh Son screened for critics at the Esquire IMAX, and while some films play better on the big screen—without the vastness of space in Interstellar, you’re left with the emptiness of its ideas—Seventh Son demands to be seen on the smallest screen possible. An iPhone would be too large.
Shockingly, there are noteworthy people not only in the cast but behind the scenes, including a script co-written by Locke director Steven Knight, production design by Scorsese-favorite Dante Ferretti, costumes by Terrence Malick-regular Jacqueline West, and visual effects designed by industry legend John Dykstra. And yet Seventh Son still feels like a Hollywood blockbuster farmed out to a third-world country—it’s the cinematic equivalent of an American flag manufactured in an overseas sweatshop.