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Shyamalan's 'Last Airbender' flops in 3-D (no stars)

PLOT

A young boy with magical powers battles a warrior tribe.

BOTTOM LINE

The year's first complete flop: Incoherent, unimaginative and dull.

CAST

Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone

LENGTH

1:44

What happened?

The question applies not only to the incomprehensible narrative of "The Last Airbender," M. Night Shyamalan's entry into the tween-fantasy genre, but to the whole project. It's rare to see a film so choppily edited, poorly scripted and spastically directed that you can barely understand what you're watching.

Based on the animated Nickelodeon series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," the film marks the first time Shyamalan ("The Happening") has directed and written someone else's material. It shows. He seems overwhelmed, almost irritated, by the complexities and minutiae of a world he didn't create. He doesn't love it as his own.

"Airbender" follows Aang (Noah Ringer), a boy with mystical powers who must unite four tribes - Air, Water, Earth and Fire - by learning to "bend" each element in battle. Aang is pursued by a merciless general (Aasif Mandvi) and a disgraced prince (Dev Patel), but also befriends a brother and sister (Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz), who will help fulfill his destiny.

None of this comes to life on the screen. The action scenes - the usual mix of martial arts and special effects - are slow and graceless, and the postproduction 3-D only makes them looks flatter. Often, Shyamalan doesn't even bother with filmmaking but instead resorts to big mouthfuls of explanatory dialogue. These are equally graceless: "Aang, the Fire Nation knew the Avatar would be born to the Air Nomads. So they exterminated all the Air Nomads."

Before its release, "The Last Airbender" stirred controversy over ethnic casting (several Asian characters are played by white actors), but that's the least of this movie's problems. It's such a haphazard series of frames that it barely counts as a movie at all.

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