Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Slumber Party Massacre Trilogy

(R, New World Pictures, 77 mins., release date: Nov. 12, 1982)

(R, Concorde Pictures, 75 mins., release date: Oct. 30, 1987)

(Unrated, New Concorde Pictures, 87 mins., release date: Sept. 7, 1990)

You have to admire the Roger Corman-produced Slumber Party Massacre series in providing the exploitation cinema's equivalent of affirmative action. The glass ceiling of schlock was shattered in 1982 when Amy Holden Jones made her feature debut, having worked up the ladder from assisting Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver to becoming a prolific film editor, even turning down the prospect of cutting together Spielberg's stellar E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial to have a go behind the camera. Not only that, but Jones was fascinated by a script from Rita Mae Brown, an activist/novelist in the feminist and lesbian societies. Never mind that in the same year, another first-time director named Amy was at the forefront of the definitive teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (whose most memorable song cue is recycled in the trailer for the first film, suprisingly), as we were still in the era of the Dead Teenager Movie, and there was a marked estrogen famine in that quick-buck field.

Thus New World Pictures' original The Slumber Party Massacre, with its familiar-sounding title and proverbial slasher scenario, managed a cult reputation as subversive and satirical. Jones and Brown have made a film with a predominantly female cast, all of whom are uninhibited in their bodies and attitude to the point of parody, and their persistent panicked screams are matched by the rather wimpy male characters. Even the killer, an unmasked sanitarium escapee brandishing a portable power drill, is taken down a beg by Freudian means.

It all begins so demurely, as Trish Devereaux (Michelle Michaels) rises from bed on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, inspecting her budding figure in front of the closet mirror and clearing her dresser drawer of girlish trinkets like stuffed animals and plastic dolls. Trish's parents are heading off for a vacation, conveniently affording her the chance to invite her close friends on the basketball team over for a pajama party with plenty of alcohol, marijuana and pizza. One of Trish's pals, the catty Diane (Gina Smika), jealously tears into a luminous transfer student, Valerie Bates (the late Robin Stille), who declines Trish's gesture of atonement, deciding to spend her night babysitting her firebrand kid sister Courtney (Jennifer Meyers). But they are all uniformly ignorant of the news of a killer on the prowl, Russ Thorn (Michael Villella), who stalks the night hoping to put his depraved love into the chicks.

Around the halfway point of Thorn's massacre, the withdrawn Valerie switches on the TV to watch Hollywood Boulevard, the 1976 Allan Arkush/Joe Dante patchwork picture on which Amy Jones served as co-editor. The moment resembles an inversion of Laurie Strode's desperate pleas for rescue at the Doyle house from Halloween, with the damsel-in-distress here being one of the leery boys who crashes Trish's sisterly soiree. It ends with Thorn stabbing the kid to death out of Valerie's sight as Jones cross-cuts between that and clips from the televised film, thus sowing the seeds for Scream a good decade or so early.

But Jones' overall approach is less post-modern than Wes Craven's, which means that most of The Slumber Party Massacre is pro forma pandemonium, replete with an synthesizer-based suspense score akin to Rick Wakeman's soundtrack for The Burning and a handful of "Psyche!" scares not limited to suspicious-seeming hands over unsuspecting shoulders, characters feigning death for practical jokes and, lest you forgot, the classic "It's Only a Cat" standby. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with such tactics, as they sometimes are followed by a traditionally grisly pay-off, but wasn't this supposed to be more clever than this? The deadening devotion to cheap tricks coupled with the rigid interchangeability of the film's starlets, all of whom given short shrift by a screenplay stuck between the poles of dry academia and dull convention, allow for instances of compromise to leap out of the shadows just as much as the villain does.

Villella, who gives the film's liveliest performance as the rape-minded slaughterer, bears a striking resemblance to Mal Arnold, a.k.a. the psychotic caterer Fuad Ramses from H.G. Lewis' Blood Feast, his motivations distinctly Mansonite ("I love you"). He also affects a peacock's body language as he pursues his victims, and the demented mannerisms of this Method-heavy performance are admittedly humorous. Top it off with the phallic nature of his murder weapon, which dangles down his groin with every intent of penetration (Brian De Palma was surely watching when he recycled this in 1984's Body Double), and you can sense the female empowerment manifesto teased at in the film's distinct pedigree.

The movie does have some particularly entertaining, borderline-camp ideas about female sexuality, from the giggly small talk of Trish's clique, the lingering close-ups of butts (step forward and turn around, Brinke Stevens!) to prepubescent Courtney's restless curiosity, which prompts her to raid Valerie's stash of Playgirl mags. At times, it gets hard to believe this wasn't written by a gay man. Still, The Slumber Party Massacre is a clearly Corman affair, a tried-and-true amalgam of bared and bored flesh which has its rewards (one of the gags involves the therapeutic ingestion of cold pizza crushed by a dead delivery boy because, hey, "life goes on") and is not too shabby for a 77-minute hunk of nostalgic ephemera. It's just a shame it's too leaden to truly embrace its playful side.

Deborah Brock, on the contrary, puts an even more outlandish spin on the original with her Slumber Party Massacre II, writing/directing a phantasmagoric quasi-musical which may as well be one of the guiltiest pleasures I've ever witnessed. In the spirit of Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and Sleepaway Camp II, tragedy gets reborn as dopey farce with the surviving Courtney (Crystal Bernard, of TV's Wings) still traumatized by her encounter with the Driller Killer as she experiences her own Birthday Girl sexual awakening. Hormones and horrors kick in simultaneously as her fantasies of hunky athlete Matt Arbicost (Patrick Lowe) are interrupted by eerie flashbacks (many of which, naturally, she wasn't there for), premonitions and regular visits from both her insitutionalized sister Val (Cindy Eilbacher) and a perverted Elvis impersonator (Atanas Ilitch) whose guitar, which resembles a Satanic trident, has a functioning drill bit where the neck should be.

Courtney herself carries a six-string given that she is in a girl band with her best buds Amy (Kimberly MacArthur, 1982 Playboy calendar girl), Sheila (Juliette Cummins, from Friday the 13th V and Psycho III) and Sally (Heidi Kozak, from Friday VII and Society). The quartet arrange a festive weekend away at the condo owned by Sheila's dad, but Courtney's mental state continues to worsen until finally she and Matt are alone and the temptation to "go all the way" brings out the Driller Killer from her subconscious.

Despite not salvaging the original's squandered theme of sisterhood under pressure (once the kangaroo meat hits the grinder, its practically every woman and man for themselves), Brock's central characters have a greater sense of camaraderie at the start. Even better, the roles at played earnestly and with a measure of natural charm by the four ladies. Bernard makes for a fetching, sympathetic lead star, whilst Cummins has waaay more fun as the requisite exhibitionist than her previous credits allowed. Kozak gets the wildest acne-based gross-out gag in history, and even if Sally's songwriting prowess is hardly on the level of the solid power pop on loan from Wednesday Week (whose "If Only" and "Why" are mimed rather adorably), Kozak is bubbly cute, as is MacArthur. There is a more casual sense of sexuality (read: swimsuits), too, that makes up for the noted lack of T&A.

And then there's Atanas Ilitch, a real life Detroit Rock City underdog who cackles and preens his way into slasher film infamy, a homicidal goofball who fires off quotes classic rock song titles with deranged gusto ("I can't get no...satisfaction!") and even turns a routine murder into a sock hop ("Let's Buzz!"). Not even Pamela Springsteen's reconfiguring of Angela Baker as a cheery psycho-Puritan can compete with Ilitch, a nutty send-up of John Travolta's Greaser image. Call that description a stretch, if you must, but he's the most talented, charming Fred Krueger clone of them all.

You know what they say, "Trixters are for kids."

Brock's screenplay and direction are the right kind of unpretentious, although the ending is pretty much a doozy in what is already a succession of moments worth inducting in the WTF? Hall of Fame. What's better is that she's taken the original's fanatical insistence on love-as-rape and comes up with some jubilantly dark comedy in Ilitch‘s presence (listen to him sing "I can't stop loving you, I won‘t stop until I do" as he chases after Courtney and Amy in a construction site). Some of the visual effects are dodgy, especially the fiery conclusion, yet Slumber Party Massacre II produces a couple of nasty prosthetic delights and boasts more ingenious production design and camerawork for its low budget than the original. Forget about the film's curmudgeonly one-star reputation; this is certainly the most hummable, quotable and repeatable entry in the series.

If the first film had all the nudity and the sequel all the fun, Slumber Party Massacre III, made under Corman's bottom-scraping New Concorde banner, has all the unpleasantry. It's a blunt retread of the original that literalizes the maniac's impotence and his reliance on the power drill as substitute for his limp manhood. The very first drill kill in this one involves a young woman cornered in her car, with her hands bound behind the headrest and the murder thrusting his drill pornographically. Once again, we have a female director looking for her break in Sally Mattison, as well as an intellectually-gifted writer in Harvard grad Catherine Cyran, but watching this queasy-making, assembly-line gorefest only makes me pine for the minor subtleties of Jones and Brown's original.

What else is there to say about the plot? Much like the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacres, it's plug-and-play-and-slay stuff in which a gaggle of close-bonded girls try to enjoy a night of revelry, are interrupted by their boy toys and end up falling prey to a vicious killer. The few cosmetic differences include: hostess Jackie Cassidy (Keely Christian) is selling her childhood home and the party is kind of a long goodbye; there is a hapless dork named Duncan (David Greenlee) filling the woobie position, who trades places with the pizza delivery girl (Marta Kober from Friday II) to assert himself into the party; two red herrings are on hand to provide devious glares; and there is a back story for the psycho involving Uncle Touchy, also a recently suicidal retired cop.

The character roster is overstuffed with uninteresting characters, as there are now seven spunky girls and five horny guys in attendance. Mattison has trouble managing her cast of twelve, and after duly isolating a couple off for a quick bumping off, there are at least seven survivors by the time panic ensues. This is about 30 minutes until the end of the film, which means the last act is a protracted, tedious chase sequence where some will conveniently stand off to the side whilst one of their ranks is assaulted. The villain will continually have objects broken over his head to slow him down, and even takes a bucket of bleach to the face, but the girls continue to stand around like idiots. And this is even when poor Maria (Maria Ford as one of the two characters who doff their tops) desperately tries to reason with and console the killer to delay her inevitable death. You start to miss the proactive courage of Trish Devereaux and the Bates sisters something fierce.

I don't get how anyone could say this is an improvement over SPM II. At least the women in that had personality and pep and were distinguishable by virtue of their musical hobby. They were so appealing, I myself fantasized about crashing their party. The chicks in this film seem utterly directionless and ditzy. It gets so dire that one character (played by Hope Marie Carlton, the fantasy girl in the waterbed from Nightmare on Elm Street 4) leaps through a glass pane out of defiance and commits suicide. I guess that's supposed to be funny, but the cynicism and brutishness prevalent throughout the rest of the movie just made this particular viewer want to say "Lucky lady. Give me Atanas Ilitch or give me death of Preppy Terminator already!"

Slumber Party Massacre III doesn't quite know the drill as much as either of the previous films and just ends up coming across as straight-up boring. That pun-heavy sentence both sums up my final thoughts about this flick as well as provides the one chuckle the film failed to give me. The poster is art is also amusing, in that none of the models who pose for it bear any resemblance to the film's stars, including the likes of Ford and Carlton. If Roger Corman doesn't care, why should I?

With only the original being planned for a BD upgrade, all three films can be found in Shout! Factory's The Slumber Party Massacre Collection DVD set, which in the company's proud tradition goes the extra mile in supplemental material. Each of the film's have their own full-length commentary track, moderated by diehard fan Tony Brown (webmaster over at the Old Hockstatter Place), and twenty-minute retrospective piece which recounts the experiences of working for the notoriously thrifty Corman, the juiciest anecdotes going to Deborah Brock and producer Don Daniel of SPM II. The mogul himself is missing, but the stories told do a good job of making you feel like he's monitoring your living room, too. Amy Holden Jones and Sally Mattison provide frank remembrances of their own, and we also get to hear from the likes of cast members Michael Villella, Debra Deliso, Brinke Stevens, Heidi Kozak, Juliette Cummins, Jennifer Rhodes, Brandi Burkett, Hope Marie Carlton, and Yan Birch. Also included are original red-band trailers and photo galleries corresponding to each entry.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief/Sea of Monsters

(PG, Twentieth Century Fox, 118 mins., release date: February 12, 2010; SRP: $19.99)

(PG, Twentieth Century Fox, 106 mins., release date: August 7, 2013; SRP: $39.99)

Take your mind back to 2010, the year film adaptations of young adult novel franchises were in full swing. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter already rang the box-office bell five previous times and the grand finale was given the Kill Bill treatment with The Deathly Hollows, Part One arriving in late autumn. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight was on its third entry, Eclipse, and the first in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games series was in embryonic pre-production after Lions Gate secured the movie rights.

Lost in the shuffle was Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, based on Rick Riordan's own teen-oriented bestseller, relegated to the typically faithless dumping grounds of early 2010 by Twentieth Century Fox. This scheduling was a sign of avoiding competition with the teen lit titans, all boy wizards and bohunk monsters, as well as the final product being inescapably seen as a transparent clone of the inaugural Harry Potter films, most blatantly deduced from the employment of journeyman Chris Columbus as the director, someone who has embraced his hired gun status to the point where his production company is even named 1492 Productions. It's not like anyone was expecting a brave new world as far as Percy Jackson was concerned.

Bespectacled British yobs with wands were traded in for sullen Manhattan boys with swords, whilst Hogwarts and Quidditch morphed into Camp Half-Blood and junior cadet games of Capture the Flag. Instead of Ron Weasley, Riordan's best friend figure was a black teenage satyr/sensei/servant named Grover, which was more of a hard personality change than the rather traditional appearance of a feisty female warrior, Annabeth, a clear understudy for Hermione. The characters may have adopted physical deformities familiar to its Greek mythological trappings, as Dumbledore in this universe was Chiron, a centaur split between human and horse at the torso, but critics and audiences knew exactly where this film's true inspiration lied.

17-year-old Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is introduced as oblivious to this strange co-existence between gods and men, and only when Zeus (Sean Bean) accuses brother Poseidon's (Kevin McKidd) demigod son of burgling his lightning rod staff (why, there's the magic wand!) does Percy gradually realize his secret identity. For Percy is indeed Poseidon's progeny from a love affair with a mortal woman named Sally (Catherine Keener), and on a field trip to the museum overseen by wheelchair-bound Professor Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), a gargoyle posing as a substitute teacher attacks Percy in private, inquiring about the missing bolt. Brunner and "junior protector" Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) intervene, whisking Percy and Sally away to the Half-Blood campgrounds. Alas, Sally is forbidden to enter being a pureblood and all and is kidnapped by a Minotaur minion of Hades (Steve Coogan).

Afflicted with dyslexia and ADHD which are revealed to be talents rather than stigmas, Percy is confronted with the rumor of his treachery and vows to rescue his mom and set things straight with the holy trinity of Olympians. However, time is of the essence as Zeus has threatened war on the eve of the summer solstice, which means catastrophic natural disasters shall engulf Earth in flames. Percy defies Chiron's orders and ventures out to locate the Underworld where his mom is imprisoned, with Grover the goat-boy and Athena's steely daughter Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) tagging along. Guided by a map handed down by the Luke (Jake Abel), the cocky absentee son of Hermes, Percy and friends travel cross country from Jersey to Nashville to Las Vegas collecting teleportation pearls to save them and all of mankind from premature damnation.

Chris Columbus, former screenwriter for Steven Spielberg (Gremlins, The Goonies) and protégé of John Hughes (Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone), is quite a populist filmmaker at heart. I try not to level accusations of pandering at him, because I've seen worse hired gun filmmakers in my time and he at least knows how to make a film which is genuinely charming for all audiences. I grew up watching Home Alone almost on a Mobius-style loop and Mrs. Doubtfire remains a fun little diversion to this day. I even tout 1991's Only the Lonely as proof that Columbus was a generous actor's director on par with Hughes, who also helped prove John Candy was a multi-faceted, undervalued presence with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But in the new millennium, I can't help but feel Columbus has calcified into a joyless groove, especially given that his previous film prior to The Lightning Thief was I Love You, Beth Cooper, a forced, unfunny attempt at recapturing the glories of both his and the late Hughes' pasts.

Having begun the 2000s with Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone as well as The Chamber of Secrets, the 2010 arrival of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief feels like an Oracle's sad prophecy come to life, as Columbus' workmanlike reputation comes full circle to drag him down into uncut mediocrity. Columbus' slavish, Johnny La Rue-style devotion to crane shots, the minimal-stakes melodrama and his astounding lack of visual humor can be felt with all the finesse of a blow from Thor's hammer. Whatever touches he once demonstrated with ensemble casts has become an every-actor-for-himself Survivor Series where a lot of talented people get taken down for the count. Moments of striking spectacle which incorporate some effectively seamless CGI (I especially enjoyed a ferry ride down the boulevard of broken dreams) are taken to loud, repetitive dead zones which are as immersing as trying to dunk a cookie in a lab dish full of milk.

And then there's the matter of Craig Titley's screenplay, who apparently has invoked a powerful deity I never read about in all of my Homeric high school days: Diangellus, the God of Exposition. Whenever a mortal man has no faith in the sanctity of mise-en-scène, he seemingly prays to mighty Diangellus for a thudding line of over-explanation, thereby robbing any incident of magic, wit or intelligence. It makes the film seem more like a professor's waffling lecture than a majestic feat of storytelling, as everything has to be elaborated on with stern, mood-killing bluntness. Percy's newfound destiny is given to reams of tiresome specifics without any true feel for discovery or introspection, whereas revelations like the trio realizing the rat-infested garden shop is really Medusa's lair require a lot of thudding, literal exclamations that clutter and grate.

The name of that death trap is "Auntie Em's Garden Emporium," by the way, a backfiring allusion which reinforces just how much this makes The Wizard of Oz feel even more like The Odyssey by comparison. The stifling blandness of the central heroic threesome is enough to make you want to click your heels thrice and long for home. Logan Lerman may have the face of Disney-period Kurt Russell and the coiffure of Zac Efron, but Percy Jackson comes across more like a Luke Skywalker figurine with such a colorless, angst-ridden arc to burden. Ditto Alexandra Daddario, who has the piercing blue eyes of a junior Meg Foster but little worthy motivation behind them. Brandon T. Jackson has to play deadly straight the stereotypes satirized in Tropic Thunder, thus his incessant jive-talking and nervous subservience have all the gallantry of Chris Tucker.

Columbus overcompensates with a top-flight supporting cast who put their money where their cheeks are. Uma Thurman's bitter, bitchy Medusa ("I used to date your daddy!" she righteously sneers at Percy) could evoke dreaded memories of Emma Peel and Poison Ivy, but she clearly relishes the job and gives it a seductively sinister glee. Pierce Brosnan's grizzled but still velvety charisma adds true nobility to the dialogue (well, most of it, although even he makes his obligatory "horse's ass" quip induce a strange smile) as much as Thurman conjures up alluring bile. But the real fun is to be had when the trio encounter Hades' Hollywood hideout, with a saucy Steve Coogan in arena rocker leather chaps and the smoldering Rosario Dawson (the Mimi of Columbus' Rent) as his reluctant bride Persephone, a trophy wife more voluptuously desperate than any of the fictional housewives on Wisteria Lane. One would love to see a black comedy spin-off starring these two mismatched myths.

The Lightning Thief, though, seems content to climb the peak of Mount Obvious, resigned to its Potter-by-numbers fate which effectively squanders the potential for a bankable franchise. Even the soundtrack lays it on thick, with ridiculous deployment of AC/DC when Luke mentions the "Highway to Hell" and a Vegas interlude at the Lotus Hotel & Casino pumping up "A Little Less Conversation" and "Poker Face" as the youths partake of a certain flower-shaped cookie which dutifully distracts them from their mission, given their inconsistent knowledge of Greek lore. Unfortunately, their obliviousness is shared by Columbus and Titley, who have no new tacks with the fantasy adventure material passed on by Riordan, who probably deserves better than to be aligned with the Potter plagiarisms. His Percy Jackson is reduced to a Half-Blood Fool.

1492 words later, and now here we are talking about the streamlined Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, a late-blooming sequel which jumps straight ahead to a foreign director, the amusingly-named Thor Freudenthal, and brings in Green Lantern scribe Marc Guggenheim to adapt the second of Riordan's five volumes. The Prisoner of Azkaban this ain't, with Percy Jackson still unresolved in his daddy issues and having regressed in his confidence and fighting skills. The three principal stars return fairly more seasoned, with Lerman having wowed in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Daddario opting for the C-list scream queen route thanks to Texas Chainsaw 3-D. Brandon T. Jackson, meanwhile, is stewarded out of the picture quickly despite being written less gratingly than before, the better to make room for a few new trekkers in Percy's latest quest.

First is Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares and doppelganger for Katniss Everdeen. It's she whose stamina and arrogance puts her at the top of the Camp Half-Blood student body, as the newly-introduced camp owner Dionysus (Stanley Tucci with an amusing drinking problem; Chiron appears recast with Anthony Stewart Head) appoints her to head an expedition to locate the Golden Fleece, which is the only cure for the sickly memorial tree, erected by her father Zeus after she has fallen, that is the source of the camp's protective force field. But the culprit, once again being the blandly malevolent Luke, outs himself to Percy and drives the conflicted hero into further rebellious action alongside Grover, Annabeth and a one-eyed half-brother named Tyson (Douglas Smith).

Tyson essentially serves the bumbling sidekick role the MIA Grover did in the original, but with Chris Columbus receding into a production credit, Freudenthal's overall approach is more (non-union German?) Spielberg equivalent than even Columbus could claim. The film is like a less frenetic version of The Goonies, replete with intrigue on an abandoned, ancient ship (with Confederate zombies instead of pirates), but also cribs liberally from Jaws (the Charybdis is mistaken initially for a swarm of shark fins) and Raiders of the Lost Ark, especially in the finale involving a golden chest Luke uses to re-animate Kronos, the dreaded Titan who ate his own godly children but was foiled by the three Olympian brothers. Like the first film, the movie's set pieces involve some cute variation on a classic Greek figure, such as when The Grey Sisters appear as reckless, sassy taxi drivers (played by TV comediennes Missi Pyle, Mary Birdsong and Yvette Nicole Brown) who spill the beans about a numerical prophecy which concerns Percy. Also, in one of the minor nods to the star-powered stunt-casting from before, Luke's papa Hermes finally turns up, but less as Joe Pantoliano's boorish stepfather from the original and more in the form of a UPS clerk played by the dashing Nathan Fillion, the Canadian Bruce Campbell himself, thus making the resentful Luke seem more like the dull brat he really is when the former Captain Mal drolly steals his one big scene.

There is a way to make teenaged conflict work on a dramatic level which also incorporates time-honored folklore, but between both Percy Jackson movies, lackluster screenplays and badly-calculated direction are the main curses which prevent them from scaling such heights. Watching the prejudiced Annabeth belittle and berate the adolescent Tyson, who looks like the son of Encino Man, in such a shallow, unpleasant manner feels like a gross misjudgment, and when Grover finally reappears as the maid for gigantic cyclops Polyphemus (boomingly voiced by Ron "Hellboy" Perlman!), it's back to the old shuck-and-jive. Even Percy Jackson himself doesn't appear to get a fully-satisfying reaffirmation, a further shame considering Lerman is capable of greatness. Even more than the first film, whose fractured familial bonds were at least consistent with Columbus' not-so-auteur stature, this is dramatically stunted and as clockwork as the Colchis bull who charges the camp at the beginning. The movie brings Percy back to square one out of sheer laziness and the beats are all too familiar.

Say what you will about the Harry Potter, Twilight or Hunger Games film series, but at least they each created their own respective worlds and populated them with convincing analogues for their types of fan, allowing people to lose themselves in the stories. With the Percy Jackson duo, there is a crushing sense of impersonality and dreary obligation which goes against any types of vicarious thrill one could ascertain. At least Thor Freudenthal is a marked improvement over Chris Columbus, especially in regards to staging his action scenes and creating more indelible images. Such moments of marvel as Percy and friends riding a candy-colored Hippocampus as well as getting sucked into the Bermuda Triangle crackle with joy and tension, but ultimately the Diary of a Wimpy Kid director is fitted for the same strait-jacket as the over-qualified Lerman.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters feels direct-to-DVD caliber through and through, which will definitely not be enticing if there is a third installment. Too much time has passed between the first and second, and the cast are clearly getting too old for their parts. Much like Columbus and Hughes' own Home Alone series, don't be shocked if you find the second sequel recast and ushered out to an even more minute degree of fanfare. The gods are not that crazy, after all.