M. Night Shyamalan peers over the edge and into the abyss with The Last Airbender. Yes, that's water ahead of him, water all around him. And it's swirling. This colossal folly, the fiasco of the summer of 2010 -- gives us all a ringside seat at the sight of Mr. "I See Dead People's" career gurgling down the drain.
A flimsy, pan-Asian patchwork Nickelodeon cartoon series earns the full Shyamalan writing and directing treatment, and darned if he could make heads or tails out of it, or make a movie that made any sense at all.
It's about a bald tattooed boy, Aang ( Noah Ringer), the last of his kind -- someone who can bend the air to his will. In this alternate world where everybody speaks English and the various races -- Fire Tribe, Water Tribe, Earth Tribe and Air Nomads -- are an Ellis Island polyglot of Asian, Inuit, East Indian and Anglo Saxon. Aang is the Avatar, the reincarnated being who can bend all of the elements to his will.
The Fire Nation is using its menacing metal battleships to enslave the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdoms. The Air Nomads are all but extinct. But Aang, saved from an iceberg by the willful waterbender Katara ( Nicola Peltz) and her brother ( Jackson Rathbone) can bring the world peace.
But it turns out the twelve year old was frozen after running away during his training. He can only bend air.
His chief pursuer is "the banished Prince Zuko" ( Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire, over the top). Zuko wants to nab the kid before this Fire Nation general ( Aasif Mandvi, just terrible) grabs him. The Fire Lord ( Cliff Curtis of Sunshine, awful) plays the two off against one another.
Shyamalan's adaptation is overburdened with exposition -- back story, history, the names of spirits and creatures (Aang's pet flying caterpillar/bison). It's like a duller, dumber and Eastern influenced Harry Potter picture, a nonsensical non-Christian Narnia.
Every time he meditates or is about to fight, the kid does a little Tae Kwan Do dance, a martial arts demonstration, Ringer's strength. But when he talks, he reminds you of the clumsy boy from the bad Star Wars movies.
There isn't a line worth quoting or a scene worth relating.OK, maybe one.
"Remember, your chi will warm you!"
The movie's casting of mostly Anglo actors to play the Asian airbending kids has stirred up controversy, but that's the least of this short, disastrous film's problems.
It's enough to make you yell at the screen, which is pointlessly 3D for this film.
OMG, M. N. Shyamalan, when are you going to show us something cool?
See for yourself
The Last Airbender
Cast: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Cliff Curtis, Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz,
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Rating: PG for fantasy action violence