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By Richard Von Busack
(PG; 94 min.) HBO all-stars Ian McShane and Frances Conroy enliven a discount Harry Potter knock-off that starts off interesting and then hits a Grand Canyon-size rut. Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is an American boy living in a tiny English college town with his large rambunctious family of boys. The way the kids are wrangled by director David L. Cunningham, of the dubious The Path to 9/11, it seems like there are a dozen brothers instead of five. Will's place in the pecking order is approximately below the dog's. One day, Will receives an invitation from Merriman Lyon (McShane) and Miss Greythorne (Conroy)—"old ones," they are, warriors in a never-ending battle against darkness. Darkness, in the form of a masked black rider (Christopher Eccleston), promptly makes a handsome counter-offer with benefits and room for promotion. His soldiers in the war are this week's murder of computerized crows, not as impressive as Murder of Computerized Crows' key role in last week's Resident Evil: Extinction. Since Walden Media is involved, there's plenty of appeal to the young Christian soldier. A cruciform blast of light dispels the gathering dark; a stone church is the bunker. Will's brother, a U.S. Navy sailor on assignment "defending freedom" (his words) sends Will a belt. Turns out Will can use this belt to collect the coin-size tokens called "signs" that have been hidden throughout history. (Guess where the sixth "sign" is hidden? It's the same place where the Fifth Element was.) Amelia Warner of Quills, way too pretty for this picture, plays a witch trying to seduce Will. The pastor always warned us about bad women who would try to get us to take our belts off so they could steal our power. (RvB)
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