Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of popular book series is better left to the page

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Talk about running afoul. 

"Artemis Fowl" pretends to explore "the infinite possibilities of magic" but winds up showing the number of ways a project without direction can go horribly wrong. Mixing aspects of "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings" and "Men in Black" but coming off more like "Agent Cody Banks" with fairies, "Artemis Fowl" is a slick-looking but unruly disaster, a potential franchise that shows up dead on arrival.   

Adapted from Eoin Colfer's popular Ireland-set book series, Artemis Fowl (newcomer Ferdia Shaw) is a genius 12-year-old and son of a criminal mastermind, also named Artemis Fowl (Colin Farrell). (The movie is about the younger Artemis, who is technically named Artemis Fowl II, but naming the movie Artemis Fowl II would have been confusing for obvious reasons.)

When his father disappears under mysterious circumstances, young Artemis gets a ransom call of sorts from a cloaked figure who hisses instructions, something about retrieving a magical artifact with infinite powers, blah blah blah. 

In order to do so, he calls upon the power of the fairy world and a young helper, Holly (Lara McDonnell), who's actually 80-some years old but fairies age weirdly. The fairies work in tandem with dwarves, which is how we come into contact with Josh Gad's Mulch Diggums, a wise-cracking dwarf who's full sized (?) who mainly serves to remind audiences of "Harry Potter's" Hagrid. 

Much is made of the world of magic we as people are blind to; "most human beings are afraid of gluten, how do you think they'd handle goblins?" Mulch asks, a line that typifies the level of groans here. 

Judi Dench is on hand as a cranky 803-year-old fairy police commander who at one point dismisses a foe by saying "get the four leaf clover outta here," which is exactly what you'll want to do after 20 minutes of trying to make sense of this cluttered mess. 

Kenneth Branagh directs and gives the film a crisp look but can't make heads or tails of what's going on; there are Shakespeare monologues easier to digest than this convoluted story. Get the four leave clover outta here, indeed. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Artemis Fowl'

GRADE: D+ 

Rated PG: for fantasy action/peril and some rude humor

Running time: 95 minutes

On Disney+

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