In Mel Brooks' "History of the World - Part I," the same guy responsible for "Springtime for Hitler" tried to elicit laughs by making a big musical production number out of "The Inquisition." Of course, the real thing wasn't funny as thousands upon thousands of supposed heretics were executed by those representing the Church. Then again, beyond the concept as well as the first few seconds of the piece, it wasn't funny in Brooks' movie either
Undeterred by that failure, Swedish director Lasse Hallström uses that religious movement in his latest film "Casanova." While it's not the main plot of this look at the legendary lothario (let alone a Busby Berkeley type number), it's a catalyst that forces the title character to agree to abandon his womanizing ways and settle down with just one lady lest the Vatican officials round him up.
And thus begins the "fun" of Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi's script that's more French farce than a realistic or even semi-realistic portrayal of the real character. Going back to the lighter faire of the likes of "Chocolate" as compared to the heavier themes of "An Unfinished Life" and "The Cider House Rules," the film wants to be a rollicking comedy replete with mistaken identities, misdirection and screwball moments.
Fully acknowledging that it's nothing more than a fluff piece, I have to admit that I like what the filmmakers have attempted to concoct, at least in concept. A romantic farce, if handled correctly, can turn out to be good, as was the case with "Shakespeare in Love" (albeit, not a true, full-blooded farce, but it contained some of the elements including all of the mistaken identity material). When it doesn't work, it can make something like the old TV sitcom "Three's Company" come off like sophisticated, high art.
The result here falls somewhere in between. The problem isn't with the casting, as Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller decently fit the bill as the title character and the ahead of her time woman who bewitches him (and, coincidentally, makes sure this is a 100% heterosexual about-face for him following his turn in "Brokeback Mountain"). And the likes of Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin and Charlie Cox are generally fine in their respective roles.
Instead, it's that everything is so superficial - especially the construction of the characters -- that it feels like a Cliffs Notes version of history, even when one acknowledges its obvious, light nature. Everyone here's game for the attempt, but so much attention was paid to the farcical elements that most of the characters are shortchanged in comparison. Accordingly, the performers can't instill enough life into them to make us care.
Then there's the fact that despite its attempt at being complex, the plot (and its various twists, turns and more) isn't as clever as it apparently believes it is. While there's plenty of misdirection from certain characters and directed at others, and that eventually involves plenty of characters and layers of comedy-based lies, it never carried me away into the world of movie fun, whether from an individual or collective standpoint. Instead, I found it intermittently amusing in one of those "I get what they're trying to do, but don't feel that they perfectly accomplished the task at hand" reactions.
Of course, tastes being what they are, I can see why some would enjoy what's offered, as it's the cinematic equivalent of multi-colored cotton candy. After all, it's generally sweet (if ribald), it's pretty to look at and it certainly goes down easy. Yet, afterwards, you're likely to feel somewhat sticky and certainly undernourished as far as getting your daily comedy requirements.
Perhaps if Hallström and company had included the legendary lovers' other real-life attributes and vocations into the mix - including but not limited to his experience at being a preacher, spy, alchemist and more - I might have felt more satisfied. A moderately diverting piece of costume comedy entertainment, "Casanova" may be attractive and might seduce some viewers with its charms, but I just didn't love it during or after the act.