CATEGORIES Reviews

winters tale reviewWarner Bros.

With Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day falling on the same wintery weekend, the studios are betting that love sick couples and self-loathing singles will both be lining up for some romantic movies this weekend -- how else to explain the simultaneous release of an unnecessary "Endless Love" remake, an "About Last Night" redo, and "Winter's Tale," arguably the most "original" of the three V-Day offerings but still an adaptation of a 1983 novel written by Mark Helprin.

The film was written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning screenplay for "A Beautiful Mind" (or, conversely, for running the Batman franchise into the ground with the script for "Batman & Robin"), and stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, and Russell Crowe. Oh, and Will Smith (more on that in a minute). It's a tale of timeless love and spiritual reawakening and is designed to make couples everywhere swoon into their extra-large popcorn tubs.

If you take your significant other to "Winter's Tale," though, will you score? Is this a new romantic classic or a waste of your precious time? Read on to find out.

1. It May Not Be the Best Movie to See on Valentine's Day
Firstly, taking someone to see "Winter's Tale" for Valentine's Day is just a lousy idea. It's something of a bummer, concerning consumptive young beauties, chronically ill children, and fun stuff like murderous gangsters and dying of old age. This isn't a cheery, time-traveling romance nor is it a profound, tragic meditation on the undying power of love. And so your date is probably going to wonder why you just didn't take them to see "The Lego Movie" again (in 3D this time, you cheapskate).

2. There's a Whole Lotta Supernatural Handiwork
One thing that the trailers have been keenly avoiding is just how much supernatural handiwork is tucked away in "Winter's Tale." While the advertising and marketing materials suggest some kind of time travel element, with Farrell's Peter Lake starting the movie in 1900's New York and transporting to modern day, what they don't tell you is that Russell Crowe's fearsome gangster is actually, um, a demon, and that there are a whole bunch of other goofy supernatural subplots sprinkled throughout the narrative (including a bunch of "rules" related to the movie's own internal "mythology"). Instead of acting as a the It's aggravating and groan-worthy every step of the way.

3. Will Smith Plays the Devil
Oh, how could we resist mentioning that Will Smith plays the Devil! But not just any devil -- he plays the Devil like only Will Smith can play the Devil. When Crowe's demonic heavy goes to visit him, Smith is laid out on a modern chaise lounge, thumbing through his copy of "A Brief History of Time" (the year is 1916 -- clever, no?) When he stands up, he's in modern-day garb, complete with hip hop-inspired earrings in each ear and a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Jimi Hendrix. Sigh. This is high on our list of silliest cameos we've ever seen in a major motion picture.

4. There's Also a Flying Horse
They should have put the fact that there's a Pegasus in the movie, one that flies on gossamer, glittery wings and exists almost solely to show up when the narrative needs it, in some of the trailers. That would have gotten butts in the seats!

5. The Movie Fails Colin Farrell
It felt, for a while, that Colin Farrell was being lined up as Hollywood's Next Big Thing, with starry roles in "Phone Booth" and the high-profile Al Pacino vehicle "The Recruit." And then we didn't hear much from him, as he struggled to find his way, putting in gripping performances in movies that didn't demand his level of commitment or performance ("Daredevil," we're looking in your direction). In recent years, he's once again proven himself to be one of the most exciting actors around, particularly in things like the aggressive splatter comedy "Seven Psychopaths," underrated horror remake "Fright Night," and most recently alongside Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in the beguiling "Saving Mr. Banks" (he should have gotten a Supporting Actor nod, dammit!) You can feel the actor straining to give "Winter's Tale" all he has, and acknowledging that he can't be the handsome weirdo all the time time. For the most part, he does a good job.

6. There Are a Lot of Computer-Generated Lens Flares
To get geeky for a moment, lens flares, a favorite stylistic tic of directors like J.J. Abrams and John McTiernan, are mostly achieved through the use of anamorphic lenses, which squish the image (and light sources) in really interesting ways. For the first "Star Trek" movie, it was part of the visual language of the film, and Abrams had a guy sometimes just shining a flashlight at the camera, to give it that look. In "Winter's Tale," magical objects are often discovered with the accompaniment of a lens flare. Except that Goldsman didn't use real lens flare (if I'm not mistaken, the movie's not shot in anamorphic), so the movie is riddled with artificial-looking computer-generated lens flares.

7. Jennifer Connelly Is Still One of the Most Beautiful Women in the World
Seriously -- maybe the movie should have been about how she doesn't age and remains one of the sexiest human beings on planet earth. She reminds us of the babe (what babe?) the babe with the child (what child?) the child of voodoo, hoodoo, remind me of the babe. (For those who don't know, that's a reference to Connelly's 1986 movie "Labyrinth," which should be watched immediately.) Too bad she's saddled with a blandly tragic back story (instead of being consumptive, like Lake's long-ago love, she has a sick child) and offered little in the way of actual characterization.

8. The Voiceover Is Problematic
There seems to be about 45 minutes of voiceover throughout the movie, delivered with stone-faced solemnity (and an accompanying British lilt) by Jessica Brown Findlay. Of course, what she's talking about in the voiceover (things about fate and destiny and the miracle inside of us all) is so banal and silly that you can't keep a straight face.

9. It Has Nothing to Do With Shakespeare
The title for "Winter's Tale" is borrowed from a fairly well known Shakespeare play. The play features one of the most famous lines of stage direction ever: "Exit, pursued by a bear," a bit of theatrical miscellanea referenced in last year's brilliant "World's End" ("Let's Booboo!") There is no connection, no allusion, no nothing, between Shakespeare's masterpiece and "Winter's Tale." Maybe that's for the best.

10. As Far as Vanity-Driven Passion Projects Go, It Doesn't Get Much More Embarrassing
"Winter's Tale" easily ranks alongside "The Postman" in terms of poorly received vanity-driven passion projects that very few people will care about or see. You understand what Goldsman was going for (sort of) -- a timeless romance that exists within the literary context of "magical realism." But none of that comes across. It's bloated, it's pretentious, it's overtly serious, and none of it works. For something that Goldsman has devoted years of his life to, you'd expect, at the very least, something with a little more pizzazz.

"Winter's Tale" opens Valentine's Day, February 14.