The Last Airbender emphasizes the cerebral

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Disappointment in M. Night Shyamalan’s films has become almost reflexive among fans, who have bemoaned the director’s failure to match the success of 1999's The Sixth Sense. Shyamalan’s films, though uneven and often reliant on twist endings, tend to be contemplative, with a spiritual component that seems to frustrate those seeking more obvious thrills. The Last Airbender, a live-action adventure film based on a Nickelodeon animated series, is likely to disappoint as well, since it emphasizes the cerebral elements of the narrative over exciting action. The story centers on Aang (Noah Ringer), a preadolescent Airbender accepting his destiny as the reincarnated Avatar, the only person who can manipulate all four elements and maintain peace among the Air, Water, Earth and Fire nations. (“Bending” is the ability to manipulate an element.) Combining elements of The Golden Compass and Avatar, the movie is distinguished by lovely tai chi choreography and a grounding in Eastern philosophy, though it might be best to see it in 2D rather than the distracting postproduction 3D. Some of the acting and writing are stiff, and Shyamalan has drawn fire for casting Caucasians in roles perceived as Asian, but Airbender does feature strong performances by Indian actors Dev Patel and Aasif Mandhi and Iranian actor Shaun Toub. ***

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