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History In The Breaking

Films fail famous figures

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As someone who holds Troy in high esteem, I was in good spirits after watching the similar period epic Alexander: All those critics who undervalued that Brad Pitt vehicle will now have no choice but to upgrade their original estimations. Heck, compared to Alexander, even Caligula is starting to look good.

Alexander isn't just one of the worst movies of the year -- it's also the worst film ever made by Oliver Stone, an immensely talented filmmaker who, three Oscar wins notwithstanding, has never received enough credit for assembling what's overall a strong filmography. But he's gone terribly astray with Alexander, and in just about every manner imaginable. This movie is unremittingly dull, visually unappealing, narratively muddled, inadvertently campy, wretchedly performed -- and that's just for starters.

Colin Farrell, who's been magnetic in other movies, gets trampled under the weight of Stone's expectations in tackling the role of Alexander, the warrior king whose claim to fame was conquering most of the known world by the time he was Ashton Kutcher's present age. Farrell's a lightweight in this movie -- imagine if Lawrence of Arabia had been cast with Tab Hunter instead of Peter O'Toole, and you get the idea. Anthony Hopkins provides the doddering exposition -- lots and lots and lots of exposition -- as Alexander pal Ptolemy, who, 40 years later, relates their adventures with all the enthusiasm of a theater employee removing bubble gum from under the armrests. As Alexander's parents, Angelina Jolie (sporting an accent that suggests she's channeling Bela Lugosi) and Val Kilmer get to bellow and howl and gnash their teeth, to little avail.

The battle sequences, which seem to have been shot by a camera while it was tumbling around inside a dryer, remain as murky as the characters' relations toward one another. The homoerotic content (Alexander was bisexual), which had been receiving more gossip-rag ink than any other aspect of the film, is conveyed through an endless series of demure looks between the male players; this skirting around the issue may make the movie more palatable to a nation that's passing anti-gay measures with Aryan expediency, but it also adds a campy quality that's furthered enhanced by some laughable dialogue and several bug-eyed performances.

In fact, given the woeful results, Stone would have fared better had he just turned the whole picture into a comic romp on the order of Monty Python's Life of Brian. Where's Biggus Dickus when we need him?

There's a certain crazy appeal to the central thrust of National Treasure, which suggests that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers did such an exemplary job of hiding a sizable bounty that the only way to find it is to unscramble the clues that have been hidden on the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell and other mainstays of American History 101. Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford have been searching for a screenplay worthy of providing the backbone for an Indiana Jones 4, and in the proper hands, this might have been the one.

Instead, the resumes of National Treasure's director (Jon Turteltaub) and five writers are littered with the likes of Bad Boys II, Snow Dogs and Disney's The Kid, so instead of another Raiders of the Lost Ark, we get to watch plunderers of a lost art. National Treasure strives for the breathless pace of a matinee cliffhanger, yet it's too clumsy, too flat-footed, to generate anything more substantial than glazed-over glances in the general direction of the screen. That's surprising considering this hails from superstar producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose movies -- love "em or hate "em (and I generally hate "em) -- at least contain a propulsive power that keeps them watchable.

National Treasure is better than typical Bruckheimer junk like Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, but it has no sense of pace or style, and it finds Nicolas Cage (as the do-gooder who seeks to protect the treasure from greedy foreigners) again turning his back on his talents to sleepwalk through yet another undemanding part. The only national treasure connected with this film is the gargantuan paycheck that the actor received for his somnambular contribution.

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