This sixth but by no means final Harry Potter movie serves mainly as connective tissue. Not a self-contained story in its own right, the film doesnt go anywhere or really do anything at alland aside from one rather large, widely known spoiler that arrives in the final moments, nothing happens in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince . It serves mainly as logistical scaffolding to reposition the characters and strum up some backstory so that everybody will be where they need to be for the closing sequel(s), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows , arriving in two parts sometime during 2010 and 2011, if we are to believe the hype.

This is an awful shame, because this Potter series really seemed to find its footing with 2007s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix , wherein director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg hacked and slashed J.K. Rowlings doorstop-sized tome into trim fighting form, locating a central theme of angry, horny Harrys coming of age and jettisoning all the tangential, annoying J.Ro frou-frou that was too often included in these films as fan-service.

It was the first Harry Potter movie that actually felt like a movie something that had been adapted and recontextualized for a different medium, instead of merely regurgitated from an audio book.

But for whatever reason, Goldenberg got booted and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who penned the first four pictures) somehow landed his job back, and The Half-Blood Prince suffers from the same wandering attention span and digressive lack of focus as those earlier Potter films. Its aggressively overlong, borderline incoherent and drags out for more than two and a half hours thanks to a ton of pointless scenes that Potter partisans will no doubt tell you are of desperate importance, because they were in the book.

The film begins quite brilliantly, with a swarm of Death Eaters tearing down Londons Millennium Bridge, while young Harry tries exploiting his newfound tabloid infamy as The Chosen One to pick up chicks. But forget about any further collisions between this catastrophic battle between good and evil and anything resembling the real world. Potter is quickly whisked back to the secluded, curiously depopulated set at Hogwarts, and apparently were supposed to assume the British government hasnt the slightest interest in following up on these monster attacks that keep killing hundreds of civilians.

Half-Blood Prince quickly doubles back, superfast, to the same format weve seen in all six previous picturesa leisurely paced stroll through the semester with yet another great English character actor (Jim Broadbent, this time) introduced as the new teacher with a sinister secret.

Im sorry, but Ive been through this five times before in these past few years, and this school seriously needs to be shut down as soon as possible. How many duplicitous, child-murdering agents from the Lord of Darkness with a shelf full of BAFTAS will be employed before somebody finally files a fucking complaint?

Then they talk. Good lord, do they talk. Seemingly every conversation in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince alludes to some sort of mystery or conspiracy thats going to pay off later, presumably in the next movie. Meanwhile they stand around jawing about it all, occasionally playing Quidditch to irritate me even furtheras Ive been watching these movies for damn near a decade and I still cant figure out the rules to that foolish sport.

As theres no sense of forward momentum, Half-Blood Prince is a stopgap exercise. More than an hour is blown on the painfully obvious attraction between Rupert Grints Ron Weasley and Emma Watsons Hermione Granger, but even the payoff of their transparently Han Solo/Princess Leia relationship is cruelly negated by a convenient memory lapse. Likewise theres an object that Harry and Michael Gambons Dumbledore spend the back nine of the movie chasing down, and it, too, proves to be a totally worthless red herring.

The finale, which I am told was a page-turning free-for-all in Rowlings book, is here rendered as a meager skirmish better befitting a TV movie. What needed to be epic feels more like a bunch of actors crowding each other within the confines of a tiny set; its the cheapest-looking brush-off of a beloved character since Shatner bought the farm in Star Trek: Generations .

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince feels like one of those second-to-last episodes of the odious 24 . All setup and no payoff, it just reshuffles the deck and stalls for time.

Grade: C-

Running time: Too damn long

Rated: PG (to bring in more kids than the prior Potter s PG-13 ratings did)

Budget: $250 million

How many more in the series?: One

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