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'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' review: Rises above a low bar

**1/2 (out of four)

Earning the coveted and easily attained praise "better than `Twilight,'" "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" thrives not on the presence of awesome but the absence of terrible. Though the film has welcome, mild stabs at humor, I neither laughed with the latest big-screen adaptation of a popular teen supernatural romance novel nor at it.

Naturally, acceptance of author Cassandra Clare's universe requires a tolerance for people dubbed "the high warlock of Brooklyn" and the typical young adult depiction of kissing as the ultimate squeal-inducer. Lily Collins ("Mirror Mirror") stars as Clary, who wonders why she keeps drawing some weird symbol that looks like a turnip with bunny ears (my words, not hers), and why she can see mysterious demon killer Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) when her best friend/nerd-with-a-crush Simon (Robert Sheehan) can't. As it turns out, Clary's a Shadowhunter, a breed of half-angels that may face extinction if they don't find a cup whose powers transcend its aesthetic appearance. I mean, I have minimal concern for goblet design, but this all-powerful cup just looks like your average chalice.

That underwhelming visual sense extends to the overlong film, directed by Harald Zwart ("The Karate Kid," something called "Long Flat Balls II") with reasonably effective pacing but a muddy look reminiscent of this year's forgotten "Beautiful Creatures." Even when set in New York, a trip to a land of angels and demons should look impressive, and "City of Bones" will only arouse members of Team Jacob happy to see a werewolf destroy a vampire.

Yet a tone that makes room for lightness (I smirked when Clary claims, "I don't remember anything she'd want me to forget") and sufficient interest in the love triangle between Clary, Jace and his adopted sibling, Alec (Kevin Zegers), keeps the corny, non-embarrassing "City of Bones" palatable, if not riveting. Unlike the empty brooding in "Twilight," there's palpable desire and relatable jealousy here.

There's also the note that certain music drives demons crazy, and Bach actually was a Shadowhunter. Surely "J.S. Bach: Demon Killer" would best "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," but maybe when remembering dead icons we should just leave monsters out of it.

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