[Screen It]


(2014) (Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe) (PG-13)

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Fantasy/Drama: In a mythical New York City, a common thief falls in love with a dying woman and clashes with demonic forces.
Peter Lake (COLIN FARRELL) grew up an orphan on the mean streets of early 20th century New York City. He tried to make it as a mechanic, but turned to crime and became a highly skilled burglar in the service of crime boss Pearly Soames (RUSSELL CROWE). He eventually runs afoul of the man, who threatens to kill him. It soon becomes clear that Pearly is an actual demon in the service of Lucifer (WILL SMITH) and is quite literally Hell-bent on stopping Peter from realizing his destiny that he can perform a single miracle.

Preparing to flee Manhattan, Peter decides to rob one more house. As it turns out, it's the home of a dying young woman named Beverly Penn (JESSICA BROWN FINDLAY) who is home at the time. They fall in love. But Pearly senses that saving Beverly's life might be the miracle Peter is destined for. Before he can kill the woman, though, Peter spirits Beverly off on his magical white horse to her father Isaac Penn's (WILLIAM HURT) estate in the country.

Peter is unable to prevent Beverly from dying, and he is eventually brutalized by Pearly and tossed off a bridge. He survives and spends the next 98 years wandering New York with no memory until he meets journalist Virginia Gamely (JENNIFER CONNOLLY) and her terminally ill daughter and slowly begins to reclaim his destiny with the help of Beverly's grown-up sister, Willa (EVA MARIE SAINT).

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
I can suspend my disbelief a LOT in movies. In 1978, as a young boy, I absolutely DID believe a man could fly when I watched Christopher Reeve soar by the camera. A decade later, I totally bought Bob Hoskins interacting with a bunch of cartoons to solve a murder in post-WWII Los Angeles. And more than a decade later, I totally bought New Zealand as the stand-in for J.R.R. Tolkien's wondrous Middle Earth.

Then, we get to a flick like "Winter's Tale." Here is a movie that asks us to believe that demons walk the Earth, whose purpose is to prevent miracles, spread crime and degradation, and sow the seeds of doubt among humans. That's cool. I go to church. I can buy that. And I can buy Colin Farrell as a 1916 man who gets help from a heavenly horse from time to time as he tries to figure out his destiny. I can even buy Will Smith as Lucifer! Yes, you read that right. He literally plays the Fresh Prince of Darkness!

But what I can't buy is Colin Farrell being tossed off a bridge, losing his memory, and wandering around Manhattan for 98 years -- NINETY-EIGHT! -- and never aging. And the movie skips over those years completely. He only regains his memory NINETY-EIGHT years later when the plot calls for him to do so. No word on how he has been able to survive not knowing his name, not having any forms of ID, and so forth. And then when he does regain his memory, he reconnects with the younger sister of the terminally ill woman he fell in love with back in 1916 who he couldn't save. Where does he find her? In a nursing home? In an assisted-living facility? No! She is running a major New York newspaper previously owned by her father. This is NINETY-EIGHT years later! Which puts the woman conservatively at 106! Sure, the part is played by the graceful and ageless Eva Marie Saint. But still!

And, maddeningly, the film doesn't even bat an eye at presenting a 106-year-old serving as editor-in-chief of a major Manhattan daily. At 106, I'll doubt I'll even be able to raise a thumbs up or thumbs down to a movie let alone write a coherent review. But therein lies the main problem with "Winter's Tale." It never lays the groundwork for any of the fantastical things that happen throughout. Everyone just accepts that there is a flying horse, a man who doesn't age, light that passes through stolen gems and creates holograms. Oh, every once in a while, a character will squint and look at another character as if to say, "Did you just see THAT?!" But the rest is just presented without context, without set-up.

The film is both overwritten and under-explained. There are passages of flowery prose spewed throughout. Talk of destinies and miracles and how light is life and love can never truly die. But it's all at the service of a deeply goofy story that writer-turned-first-time director Akiva Goldsman botches.

His task was a daunting one, to be sure. The film is an adaptation of a 750-page 1983 novel by Mark Helprin. I am unfamiliar with the novel, but even I could tell watching the film that vast amounts of the story were left out. They had to be! Because what's on screen almost never makes a lick of sense. There is a narrative vagueness throughout that keeps viewers way away even though the actors are flat-out giving it their all.

Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay as the doomed lovers act their parts with all of the conviction of a Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet from "Titanic" or your pick of the classic pairings of Hollywood's Golden Age. They're great together when the script isn't getting in their way. Similarly, Russell Crowe relishes playing an even more unhinged version of "Les Miserables" Javert, an obsessed man on the hunt for a frantic thief whose destiny may be entwined with a mission from God to save a young woman, then a young girl.

And it all looks pretty! Caleb Deschanel's cinematography is dreamlike and darkly beautiful. But my neck still hurts from all of the times I darted a look over at the wife throughout to mouth the words, "What the BLEEP?!" This is a must-avoid. I give it 2.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed February 10, 2014 / Posted February 14, 2014

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