There's a rampaging bull in "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" that looks like something an 11-year-old boy might draw on the back of his math homework, when he should be paying attention to his teacher instead.
The villainous beast is gold, has steam punk innards and opens up its mouth to reveal a giant flame thrower. This bad guy is boss, rad, hella sweet, or whatever the sixth grader slang is for cool in 2013.
The same can be said for much of the second "Percy Jackson" movie, which is outgunned by summer movies with larger budgets and bigger names in the cast. Pierce Brosnan doesn't return, leaving Stanley Tucci as the biggest star. But the sequel effectively executes its simple vision - to provide clever PG entertainment for preteens whose parents are too strict to let them watch "The Wolverine."
Logan Lerman returns as Percy, the son of Poseidon, who hangs in Camp Half-Blood with other teen-age God-spawn and fantastic creatures. The tree-deity that protects this little retreat of raging hormones is threatened, so Percy and his friends go on a journey to seek the healing powers of a Golden Fleece.
"Sea of Monsters," based on the Rick Riordan young adult novel, weaves Greek mythology with modern updates. Tucci as Dionysus is the camp director. God of commerce and speed Hermes - a nice cameo by Nathan Fillion - runs the overnight delivery company Olympic Postal Service. When our heroes must storm a boat, it's a luxury yacht. They reach their destination on the back of a hippocampi, which looks like the result of an amorous relationship between a racehorse and a rainbow trout.
The special effects occasionally fall closer to "Sharknado" than "Pacific Rim," but director Thor Freudenthal does a good job of stretching the budget. A flashback scene is animated with a stained glass technique. A giant obstacle course play structure, reminiscent of TV's "Wipeout," is an effective practical effect.
"Percy Jackson" lacks a central bad guy, and the quest starts to develop the dopey procedural feel of a Scooby Doo episode ?. Big parts of the book are missing, replaced by awkward edits.
Finally, discriminating adults may find the dialogue a bit groan-worthy. ("It's not cool to Bogart someone else's quest!") Middle school English teachers and librarians who see the parallels to Greek mythology may be more forgiving. Anything to get the kids interested in the classics.
It's an easy film to pick apart, but the end result is positive - especially if you're a child or sitting next to one. There are plenty of bad films to get riled up about in the summer. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" isn't one of them.
This is harmless tween-centric fun.
"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"
Cast: Logan Lerman, Douglas Smith, Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Rated: PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language