As Harry ages, 'Potter' feels old

I can't believe it has taken me six movies to realize that I've been watching the same "Harry Potter" movie for the past eight or 45 years.

This may explain why I wasn't that amped to catch the latest installment, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Although several of my co-workers were getting disturbingly giddy at the mere mention of the movie (one of my next-cubicle neighbors did this weird, slow thing with her shoulders that just freaked me out when I told her about the press screening), I felt I was going back to the frontlines, doing yet another tour of duty at that cursed Hogwarts School.

For a while, I thought this installment would be worth my time. It begins with Potter (that charming Daniel Radcliffe) lying low in the real world, chatting up fine, greasy-spoon waitresses as evil forces do damage all over London, turning the Millennium Bridge into a rickety shambles. But, alas, after about 30 minutes of that, "Prince" slips back into its whimsical world of wonder by having Harry and his potnas-in-wizardry Hermione (Emma Watson, whose blossoming femininity is already making a couple of my boys uncomfortable) and Ron (Rupert Grint -- man, how old is he? 30?) going buckwild in a magic novelty store. I guess a city on the brink of disaster isn't as fascinating to watch as a bunch of kids playing with cool, colorful stuff. (Take that, Michael Bay!)

Of course, the movie ends up back at Hogwarts, with Luke, Leia and Han -- I mean -- Harry, Hermione and Ron, working on ways to defeat Darth -- excuse me -- Voldemort and his army of Imperial Stormtroop -- dang! -- Death Eaters.

Even the most obsessive "Potter" fan has to admit that there is a formula to the movies, a formula that gets more obvious with each sequel. Regular "Potter" screenwriter Steve Kloves returns to restore the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink storytelling that Michael Goldenberg tried to break away from with the last volume, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." ("Phoenix" director David Yates sticks around to helm this one.)

We know that the whole gang will return to Hogwarts. We know that Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) will remind Potter how important he is in every scene he's in. We know that an instructor will come in and shake things up -- in this case, it's the dottering, haunted Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). We know that there will be a bevy of expository scenes that so should've been cut out. We know that Hermione and Ron will once again dance around their feelings for each other. We know that there will be a Quidditch game. We know that Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) will bounce between being ambiguously sinister and ambiguously androgynous. We know that Draco (Tom Felton) will sulk around like a sniveling jerk with a bad dye-job.

And we especially know that the movie will end with what seems like a 45-minute, morbidly staged, dankly lit showdown that will have Potter mourning a loss that you know he'll be avenging in the next movie.

Now, I don't want you to leave this review thinking "Prince" is a complete mess. There's at least an hour or so of decent, entertaining material, especially as Harry, Hermione and Ron play musical hormones with other classmates. But since it's mixed and cluttered with the aforementioned stuff, "Prince" may be the most blatant slog of the entire series. (I will say "Prince" is still not as bad as the Chris Columbus installments.)

As I left the theater, I was already mapping out the next two (good Lord!) installments of the "Harry Potter" saga that will close out the series. Maybe I'll take the co-worker with the shoulders to those. Perhaps she could remind me why I -- and everybody else -- keep returning to the frontlines.

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