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Alexander

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/02/04 14:42:33

"The extra hour means more time for crap!"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

A handy guide to watching Oliver Stone’s “Alexander:” 1. Show up forty-five minutes late, just in time for the first battle sequence. 2. After the battle, take a bathroom break. 3. Return to movie, keep watching for a while to see the mildly interesting storyline that follows. 4. Around the halfway mark, take a nap. 5. Wake up around one hour later for another decent battle scene. 6. Leave early, sneak into showing of “The Incredibles.”

No, Stone’s first go at an all-out historical epic isn’t as royal a failure as you may have heard by now. But yeah, it’s still not worth the time. To steal a line from Johnny Carson, it’s one hour of decent movie spread out over a three hour show.

So let’s start with what works. Namely, the thing looks great. I’m a sucker for widescreen Technicolor epics, and this one’s a beaut, the frame spilling over with lush set design, intricate costuming, and delicious panoramic cinematography. There are times we’re visually transported to the ancient world, the look of the film is that convincing.

Stone also supplies us with the occasional Grand Moment, little bits of filmmaking wizardry that, while hurting the film by reminding us how great it should have been, makes the time better by providing us with brief snippets of goodness. The battle sequences are, as mentioned above, quite involving, yet another overwhelming barrage of violence we’ve come to expect in our war epics. But the good parts aren’t limited to the war; consider one marvelous moment in which Stone backs away from the traditional pre-battle troops-rousing speech, only to have the camera soar into the air, then zoom back down on the opposing army. Aside from simply looking cool, it adds a new twist to this war epic cliché - just what are the other guys up to while our hero’s out there delivering the St. Crispin’s Day speech? Turns out, they’re being ordinary humans, some showing fear, others buckling down for the good fight. What a terrific moment.

Soak that moment in, though, because it’s one of the only good ones you’ll get in the three hours Stone spends delving into every tedius detail of Alexander the Great’s conquering of the known world. The timeline we get ranges from the boring (who’da thought a Rosario Dawson sex scene would produce so many yawns?) to the too-restrained (Alexander’s bisexual exploits are bravely handled... except Stone shyly backs away from actually showing anything, and the restraint is distracting) to the downright laughable (why does Angelina Jolie sound like the Baroness from “G.I. Joe?”). This movie is one gargantuan mess, never certain where it’s headed, never focusing in on the ideas that matter most.

Ideas like Alexander’s conquering of everything. We keep hearing thoughts on how Alexander united the world, yet the film refuses to expound on this notion. Instead, the script (penned by Stone, Christopher Kyle, and Laeta Kalogridis) merely has Alexander plowing ever eastward, with only lip service paid to the new world he’s created behind him. How did the nations unify under him? Was it as peaceful as Alexander had hoped, or were there more problems at hand? We never really know, as Stone, like Alexander, never looks back.

Now, maybe that was Stone’s intent, to focus on the leader’s own perspective of his world. Fine. But why make it so irritatingly dull? The movie finds itself in a rut, as Alexander snags a new city, tussles with his subordinates over what to do next, thinks about his mother, gives the googly eyes to childhood pal/prettyboy Jered Leto, screams out some overwritten speech, lather, rinse, repeat. This is a lazy screenplay, one that refuses to find anything new as the timeline continues. (Another sign of laziness: it’s left up to narrator Anthony Hopkins to quickly fill in all the points of the timeline the writers didn’t feel like covering with actual scenes. Necessary, perhaps, in a story of this size, although with all that jumping around, one gets the feeling that several key moments are glossed over in the process.)

The worst moments in “Alexander” come not from the script but from the cast. As hard as it is to make such laughable nuggets of dialogue as “In my womb I carried my avenger!” sound worse than they already are, leave it to the actors here to make do. Which is a surprise, considering the quality of work we usually expect from the likes of Colin Farrell and Val Kilmer. Things get weird when Kilmer, playing Alexander’s father, is required to take on an Irish accent, just to explain why his son has one. (Yeah, I know, if I’ll accept them speaking English, I should accept them speaking with Irish accents, but c’mon. An Irish Alexander is just plain silly, no matter how you slice it.)

Other cast members add in their own embarrassing touches - Dawson, as the future Mrs. Alexander, makes up for an underwritten character by piling on a doofy accent and gratuitous nudity; Leto looks like a Calvin Klein model who got lost and wandered onto the set - the real gem here is Jolie. Hers is a performance of complete and utter horridness, a brilliantly awful mix of overacting and this vague Natasha-from-”Bullwinkle” accent. As Alexander’s mother, her character becomes the year’s best headscratcher: just how is it that she perpetually looks a supersexy thirty years old for all of Alexander’s life, only to age fifty years within the last two years of the movie? If the hamminess doesn’t get you laughing, the old lady makeup will. Why was she cast as Colin Farrell’s mom again? Was it the boobs?

One wants to leave “Alexander” thinking of the good parts and what might have been. But the memories of the lame, the dumb, the ridiculous are inescapable. Stone, who has made many great films and a handful of pretty bad ones, does his best to prove that he can handle costume dramas like the best of ‘em, only to get overwhelmed in a terrible script and a bland story. People always leave an Oliver Stone movie arguing; here, however, they’ll only be arguing about why they bothered to sit through the whole thing.

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