As Percy has always felt best when swimming, it follows that Dad is the god of the sea. But no sooner does Percy learn his paternity than he finds himself accused of stealing Zeus' lightning bolt and sees his mother abducted, and possibly vaporized, by Hades, god of the Underworld.
Based on the young-adult series by Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is a diverting action fantasy that modernizes the stories of demigods and monsters. (Riordan imagines the Greek gods as sparring siblings who sic their fanged pets on one another.) Like the mythical Perseus, Percy neutralizes Medusa, that babe with the nest-of-vipers coif, and flies around with the help of winged footwear - except here they are not sandals, but Converse high-tops.
Yet as brought to the screen by Chris Columbus, maker of the Home Alone movies and the first two Harry Potters, The Lightning Thief feels more like an audition to fill the franchise vacuum that will be left by the imminent end of the Potter series. The trio of lead actors, particularly Lerman as Percy, are agreeable. But the film is heavy with special-effects action and light on the playful humor that makes Riordan's books such a fun read. (Like hot peppers, special effects should be used sparingly, lest they dull the senses and overwhelm the dish. Percy Jackson suffers from effects overload.)
Lerman, Jackson (as Grover, a teen satyr desperate for his horns), and Alexandra Daddario (as Annabeth, Athena's butt-kicking illegitimate daughter) set out to clear Percy's name and reclaim his mom with tools apparently lifted from the Harry Potter prop master. Percy has a diagram, very much like Harry's Marauder's Map, that guides the trio across country to pearls that will be their get-out-of-Hades-free passes. (Although rated PG, the action violence and scary monsters might freak out those under 8.)
Like its stars, the film is genial good company. While it won't kill any brain cells, it is unlikely to enter the pantheon of epic screen adventures.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/.