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The Last Airbender: Let's hope so 

The live-action spectacle The Last Airbender is based on the animated Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, and were writer-director M. Night Shyamalan really as brilliant as his admirers insist, he would have demanded that the studio retain the word Avatar in the title -- that act alone could have added an extra $10 million to the coffers from ill-informed folks thinking they were going to witness a sequel to the James Cameron smash. Left to its own devices, though, it's difficult to ascertain whether the picture will earn enough to warrant its planned sequels or not even make enough to allow Shyamalan to Super-Size his next fast-food order.

The answer, I suppose, rests on how many parents will be dropping their children off at the multiplexes to catch a matinee. Because unlike most of the family-friendly films of today, the picture has nothing to offer adults -- this is strictly kid stuff all the way. That may not be the case with the source material, which has been enjoyed by viewers of all ages, but it's unlikely anything here -- beyond some of the special effects -- will capture the imagination of anyone over 12.

Those effects are occasionally excellent, and they're the only things that provide any pulse to a poorly executed story of how the young Aang (Noah Ringer) proves to be the only person in his world with the ability to control all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. His leadership is needed as the Fire Nation wages war against the other tribes; in order to restore balance and save countless lives, he teams up with Waterbender Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, doing double duty since he's also playing Jasper in the Twilight series).

Shyamalan's habit of giving himself choice roles in his own projects -- which wouldn't be a problem if he could, you know, act -- mercifully ends here, since he's nowhere to be seen on screen (of course, if someone needed to bend some hot air, he would have been perfectly cast). But focusing less on his thespian aspirations hasn't helped his writing or directing prowess, since The Last Airbender is a clunky, soporific undertaking punctuated by some truly cringe-worthy dialogue. Then again, maybe it's a good thing pearls of prose weren't wasted on this lackluster cast. No one fails to make an impression: Even Dev Patel, so charismatic as the lead in Slumdog Millionaire, comes across as a colorless novice in his role as Prince Zuko. Like everyone else in this dud centered around the elements, he's clearly out of his.

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