PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF — ★★1/2 — Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan; rated PG (violence, profanity, brief gore, brief drugs, slurs, mild vulgarity, nude art); in general release
Chris Columbus' by-the-numbers direction and the faithful-to-the-point-of-being-slavish screenplay made the first Harry Potter movie, 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," a bore.
Judging by his second attempt at launching a fantasy franchise, "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," Columbus learned a few lessons from that earlier mistake.
This is a more watchable movie, largely because he and screenwriter Craig Titley have taken some liberties with the source material, the first of author Rick Riordan's best-selling fantasy novels. And the addition of some welcome humor doesn't hurt.
While this might not rival the later, better Harry Potter movies or the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, it's more fun than you might expect. So it seems an already-in-the-works sequel, scheduled for release in 2012, isn't an unwelcome prospect.
The title character is a supposedly dyslexic teen, played by Logan Lerman, who's just discovered he's a "demi-god" — the product of a dalliance between his human mother, Sally (Catherine Keener), and the Greek god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd).
Percy is having a hard enough time wrapping his head around that as it is. But he's also been accused of stealing the source of power for Zeus (Sean Bean), the most powerful of the Greek pantheon.
Percy didn't do that, of course, but he can't prove his innocence without finding out who has Zeus' lightning bolt.
And if he doesn't, Zeus is threatening a war between the gods, which could spill over to the mortal realm.
So our hero receives some needed training from a centaur, Chiron (Pierce Brosnan), who's been disguised as one of Percy's schoolteachers.
He also picks up two needed allies — fellow demi-god Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario) and his supposedly crippled best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who turns out to be a disguised satyr.
Columbus has a very likable hero in Lerman, who is gaining confidence with each performance.
And as expected, Brosnan is good as his mentor/father figure — even if he goes missing in the film's second half.
The real scene-stealer, though, is British comic actor Steve Coogan, who plays Hades as an aging rock star.
"Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" is rated PG and features strong violent content and imagery (swordplay, arrow fire and combat, creature attacks, fiery and vehicular mayhem, violence against women and peril moments), scattered profanity, brief gory and bloody imagery, brief drug content and references (elixirs and potions), derogatory language and slurs, mildly suggestive language and talk, and glimpses of nude art (statues). Running time: 119 minutes.