Stop me if you've heard this one: Photogenic teen discovers she's part of a long line of special people with super-human powers, and she's now the target of a supremely evil figure from her past who wants to use her as part of his plot to destroy humanity. Meanwhile, she's torn between two handsome boys (one blond, one brunet) who are obsessed with her.
Take a big scoop of "Harry Potter" legacy-of-magic, add a dollop of "Twilight" chaste romance and then sprinkle in a little "Star Wars" who's-your-daddy-drama for good measure, and the unpalatable result is "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," a thoroughly dreary and occasionally baffling YA-by-the-numbers saga.
And to make matters worse, while we'll never get to see the follow-ups to "The Golden Compass" or "Beautiful Creatures," the second "Mortal Instruments" movie is already on its way, from the same writer (Jessica Postigo) and director (Harald Zwart, "Pink Panther 2," the 2010 "The Karate Kid") that made this one such a chore to endure.
Adapting the first in a series of novels by Cassandra Clare, Postigo and Zwart throw in everything from witches and vampires and demons to gay warlocks, mini-skirted monster hunters and werewolf bikers, but this silly epic never goes anywhere remotely interesting.
Clary (Lily Collins, "Mirror Mirror") is hitting her late adolescence and compulsively drawing the same symbol over and over again; when she spots the image in a nightclub sign (that seemingly no one else can see), she's given the nod to enter the most PG-13 S&M disco on earth, where she sees snake jewelry come to life and a club kid get run through with a sword.
While Clary's out the next day with nerdy pal Simon (Robert Sheehan, the "Red Riding" trilogy), two supernaturally-powered goons attack Clary's mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) and demand that she hand over a magical cup. With the help of Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), the swordman from the nightclub, Clary fends off a Rottweiler-turned-hellbeast awaiting her at the apartment.
Jace tells Clary that he and Jocelyn are both Shadowhunters, supposedly half-human and half-angel beings who defend humanity from demons. As Clary tries to remember her past, she finds herself torn between her tender feelings for Simon and her new attraction to Jace, all of which gets complicated by the appearance of the deadly Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who has a longstanding connection to any number of the characters here.
(Rhys Meyers does provide a highlight of sorts by hamming it up so much during a scene involving a signet ring that he momentarily sends the film's camp factor off the charts. If the rest of the movie provided as many unintentional laughs, we'd be talking a must-see here.)
"City of Bones" by no means lacks incident, what with all the people drawing sacred runes and tracking down objects and breaking into churches to find vampire-hunting weapons and opening gateways within dimensions, but none of it registers. The year's umpteenth origin story, filtered through some of the most familiar tropes of contemporary pop literature, turns out to be one of the summer's biggest snoozes.
There's no reckless fun here, nor even the kind of exaggerated self-seriousness that made the "Twilight" movies entertaining viewing for fans and snickerers alike. "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" feels like a pilot for a Teen Nick series you wouldn't want to watch.