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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look44.44%
Just Average: 26.67%
Pretty Crappy: 26.67%
Sucks: 2.22%

6 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Casanova movie where he keeps it in his pants?"
2 stars

I understand that the makers of “Casanova” are protesting the “R” rating bestowed upon it by the MPAA on the basis of a brief scene in which it suggested that our hero is at the receiving end on a certain bit of hanky panky being performed by a lust-crazed tart hiding underneath the table he is sitting at. Since nothing is actually shown, and since there is no real nudity to speak, they feel that the film actually deserves the more commercially viable PG-13 rating instead. Having seen the film, I have to agree with them that there is nothing on display that warrants the “R”–hell, there are network television shows currently on with content far more graphic than anything seen here. However, who the hell wants to see a PG-13-rated film about one of the world’s most celebrated devotees of sensual delights? Are we as a society so gun-shy about seeing cheerful and healthy eroticism on the big screen that even the exploits of Casanova himself have to be denuded so that he is really searching for his long-lost mother and true love instead of simply being out for a good time or twelve? Face it, a film about Casanova without any sex or nudity is like an “Exorcist” film without any Catholic iconography–one could do such a thing, but there doesn’t seem to much of a point to it.

To be fair, the film starts off with the Casanova (Heath Ledger) that we know and love, a bounder whose abilities and kissing and jumping and drinking and humping have made him the most infamous man in Venice–virtually all the men want to do him in and virtually all of the women simply want to do him. After a narrow escape following his canoodling with an aspiring novice at the local convent (“She was hardly a novice!”), Casanova’s government benefactor informs him that the Catholic Church is about to crack down on him for good and suggests that he get married in order to take the heat off of him. Casanova agrees and quickly becomes engaged to Victoria (Natalie Dormer), a local lass of unblemished virtue who is nevertheless clearly itching to do some blemishing over her own as quickly as possible. No sooner does he do this than he meets and instantly falls for Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller), a brilliant firebrand and crusader for women’s rights who writes best-selling books (under a pen name) criticizing gender inequality, uses her incredible fencing skills to defend her geeky brother’s honor and, in her spare time, makes incredible scientific discoveries–according to this film, she is the one who discovered the principles that led to the first hot-air balloon. Lord knows how much more she could accomplish even she didn’t have to do most of these things dressed in drag.

Casanova is instantly smitten but it transpires that Francesca has been betrothed to Lord Papprizzio (Oliver Platt), a gross lard merchant, in an arrangement that will save her family (including mother Lena Olin) from ruin. To prevent the wedding, Casanova poses as the “author” of Francesca’s books and waylays Papprizzio to a distant castle, ostensibly to help him lose weight before meeting his betrothed. At the same time, the evil Catholic Church representative Instigator Pucci (Jeremy Irons) arrives in order to bring Casanova to justice once and for all–in order to duck him, Casanova pretends to be the eminently respectable Papprizzio and offers to aid Pucci in tracking down Casanova once and for all. The usual complications occur and there is even an extended party sequence where our hero is forced to pretend to be all of his alter-egos depending on who is in the room with him. This is a sequence that goes on so long and which contains so many close calls and mistaken identities that I kept waiting for Cardinal Roper or Signor Furley to suddenly make an appearance.

Does this sound like the kind of Casanova movie that anyone would particularly want to see? Why do we have to see his life reduced to the level of a mildly bawdy sitcom that has all the raw sexuality and clever humor of an old episode of “Madame”? At times, it feels as if director Lasse Hallstrom is less interested in making a film on the subject of Casanova than in doing a broadly farcical riff on “Shakespeare in Love.” That film at least demonstrated a vague interest in the life and history of its central character; by comparison, Hallstrom and Co. seem more interested in pratfalling their way through Venice. I suppose that broad comedy is a perfectly viable approach to this subject but when it is attempted by someone with no known flair for slapstick, the results tend to be noisy and chaotic without ever being genuinely amusing. The climax is especially messy–a gruesome cacophony of screaming, swordfighting and last-minute revelations that makes one long for the restraint and dignity of the closing reels of “The Pirate Movie.”

Perhaps the only actor around who could possibly pull off the role of Casanova using the particular approach of this film is Johnny Depp–who else could possibly play the part as broadly as the film requires while still making the women in the audience swoon? It certainly isn’t Heath Ledger, a good actor (as anyone who has seen “Brokeback Mountain” can attest) who is nevertheless obviously uncomfortable with the both the role and the over-the-top nature of everyone around him. There is no spark or energy to his performance and he looks bored, dissatisfied and uncomfortable in virtually every scene–not exactly the kind of image you want to see in a guy playing Casanova. At least he has a role to play–poor Sienna Miller is stuck with the cliched role of the rebellious feminist who nevertheless melts at the feet of the hunky guy the minute the storyline requires it. There is nothing about her that would suggest why Casanova would willingly give up his life of hedonism to spend instead with someone as throughly boring as her–and no, it isn’t for the obvious reasons since she has been outfitted with mousy brown hair that achieves the seemingly impossible task of making Sienna Miller look frumpy. As for the scenes where she is dressed up like a man, she once again demonstrates Hollywood’s rules-of-thumb regarding cross-dressing in comedies–every man who attempts it looks exactly like a man in a dress while every woman winds up looking vaguely like Eric Stoltz.

The only things saving “Casanova” from being one of those all-time disasters that make you want to claw your eyes out are the hilarious supporting turns from Jeremy Irons and Oliver Platt, two actors who seem to have realized early on that the film was going to be a mess and decided amongst themselves to perk up their own scenes by chewing as much of the scenery as humanly possible. Outfitted with a goofy wig and goofier dialogue (“If there is bacon involved, there is no limit to the depths of his depravity.”), Irons hasn’t been this flat-out insane on the screen since his inexplicable performance in “Dungeons and Dragons” and the result is a glorious piece of well-cured hamminess. That said, he is outdone by perennial scene-stealer Platt, who takes a nothing role–his major character trait is that he is fat–and turns it into comedic gold. Sure, he is supposed to be the dopey comic relief but he brings so much energy and humor to his role (not to mention genuine sexual chemistry in his scenes with Lena Olin, the woman he finds himself instantly attracted to despite the fact that she is the mother of his bride-to-be) that I found myself idly imagining what the film might have been like if someone had the inspiration to have him play the lead instead of the joyless Ledger.

“Casanova” obviously cost a good chunk of money to produce and it has been made with lavish care to the physical details but the end results are so limp that you wonder why the filmmakers bothered in the first place. It isn’t exciting, it isn’t sexy and, aside from the appearances from Irons and Plat, it isn’t very funny. Essentially, they have taken the story of the world’s greatest bounder and transformed into a film that you could safely take the entire family to without fear of embarrassment. While such a tactic might have inspired an especially intriguing Happy Meal tie-in, it doesn’t really do much for the film itself

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13668&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/23/05 00:02:13
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User Comments

8/11/07 Hello Stranger heath ledger is a great actor in this. but the movie let down itself sometimes. not bad 4 stars
5/06/07 fools♫gold The R-rating is nothing more than an advertisement, and I question its 4/5-ness. 4 stars
1/01/07 JI fan It was nice to see Jeremy Irons in a comic role - and he "fell down and go boom" only once 4 stars
6/05/06 malcolm funnier and better than i expected 4 stars
5/17/06 HL Actually...a very entertaining movie. 4 stars
5/05/06 Ashley Hinz It was good, should have had Keira rather than Sienna. 4 stars
2/04/06 Shawn Gadberry Sorry, but I liked it! A bit far-fetched at times (like the end) but a good time! 4 stars
1/19/06 Alex Delightful gorgeous confection. Not to be taken seriously, but loads of fun. 4 stars
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  25-Dec-2005 (R)
  DVD: 25-Apr-2006

  17-Feb-2006 (12A)


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