REVIEW: 'The Adventurer' ★ 1/2

'Adventurer' series is off to a sorry cinematic start

"The Misadventurer" is more like it: Taken from one of a trilogy of young-adult adventure novels by G.P. Taylor, "The Adventurer" grinds through generic elements of apocalyptic fantasy familiar to fans of Indiana Jones, Percy Jackson and a million other guys. The "National Treasure" movies also were consulted, at least in spirit. By comparison, "The Adventurer" makes "National Treasure" look like a national treasure.

Director Jonathan Newman has characterized his film adaptation, scripted by Christian Taylor and Matthew Huffman, as a mashup of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," Willy Wonka, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter. Some projects wear disparate influences lightly and well; others come out like this one, hackneyed and a little desperate, which makes little virtue of its steampunk alternative-universe version of late-19th-century England.

The all-powerful whatzit in "The Adventurer" is an ancient artifact that once belonged to King Midas, something like the whammy ark at the end of the first Indy movie. Our hero, Marius Mundi, played rather dully by Aneurin Barnard, is the older son of a secret agent (Ioan Gruffudd) who works for the British government's Bureau of Antiquities. The villain (Sam Neill, never a master of brisk pacing) yearns for acquisition of the magical, horrible, destructive box. Richer than Midas himself, he has built a steam-powered hotel on a remote island, where the box lies buried deep beneath the surface, necessitating a nonunion underage work crew of stolen children for excavation purposes. This last bit comes from, among others, the second Indiana Jones picture.

Michael Sheen periodically saves the film from its mediocre self as the swashbuckling master of disguise aiding the efforts of Marius and his eternally, sadistically imperiled younger sibling. I liked Mella Carron as the hotel seamstress. Lena Headey, meantime, pours so much lubricious ooze into her line readings as Neill's slithery accomplice, you half expect the innuendo police to bust in with a gruff "What's all this, then?"

mjphillips@tribune.com

"The Adventurer" - 1 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: PG (for adventure action and violence, some peril and brief smoking)

Running time: 1:38

Opens: Friday. Also available via VOD.

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