Far from great, "Alexander" sporadically lumbers toward watchable, but mostly it's just bad.
And we're not just talking kitschy, B-movie bad. At least that would have been fun. We'll talking all-out, big-budget-bomb bad.
About a third of the way into this exceedingly earnest, three-hour epic, I wrote in my notepad, "This movie is going to tank." About two hours in, I wrote, "Ready for this to end."
Probably not the reaction director and co-writer Oliver Stone had hoped for when he began dreaming of this project decades ago. Then again, nothing about "Alexander" feels like a Stone film, at least not until a breathtaking battle toward the end involving elephants in India.
Despite the efforts of cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, known for his visceral work on films including "Amores Perros" and "8 Mile," "Alexander" lacks the daring and stylistic flair of Stone's best, such as "Platoon" and "JFK."
But perhaps Stone was doomed from the start. In telling the story of the Macedonian warrior-king, who had conquered the vast majority of the known pre-Christian world by the time he was 25, he has created a film that feels both too long and too cursory. We hear Alexander (Colin Farrell) talk a lot about wanting to bring various lands and people together, but we never truly understand what drives him.
Part of the problem is the dialogue - Stone wrote the script with Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis - which alternates between stilted speeches and laugh-out-loud anachronisms. My favorite is when Alexander's dad calls him "an arrogant brat."
If he is a brat, at least he's a stylish one, dressed in a micro-mini of a toga and tressed like Brad Pitt in "Troy." (Though as the movie goes on, his bleach-blond bowl cut grows out to something resembling a mullet, and by the end he's sporting the flowing locks of Fabio.)
Farrell gives it his all - sometimes he gives too much, showing every smidgen of ambition and anger on his puppy-dog-cute face - but despite his undeniable enthusiasm, he lacks the gravitas necessary for the role. Alexander was young, but he was no lightweight. They didn't call him "the Great" for nothing.
Also going way, way over the top is Angelina Jolie as Alexander's mother, Olympias, who has a fondness for snakes and may or may not be a sorceress. In an accent that seems to have been borrowed from George Hamilton in "Love at First Bite," Olympias repeatedly insists that Alexander's father was Zeus, though biology would suggest it was King Philip (Val Kilmer, back in Jim Morrison mode, blustering beneath a beard and a beer belly).
Posing the question every mother thrusts upon her son mid-guilt trip, Jolie's Olympias asks, "What have I done to make you hate me so?" (This line elicited laughs at the screening I attended.) Well, for starters, she planted the seeds for a major Oedipus complex and stage-mothered him into trampling across Western Asia, Persia and parts of India.
At the same time, "Alexander" sometimes fails to go far enough: His bisexuality is merely suggested. He tells his lifelong friend, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), that he loves and needs him more than anyone else in the world, and Hephaistion responds that he's jealous of losing Alexander to the worlds he's conquering. But that's it. Like Matt, the lone gay character on "Melrose Place," Alexander gets to give and receive meaningful glances and heartfelt hugs, and he shares a quick kiss with a servant boy. But it's almost as if Stone was afraid of alienating much of his audience with an all-male love scene.
(Alexander does get it on during his wedding night, though, after marrying exotic dancer Roxane, played by Rosario Dawson.)
Considering that he's supposedly the most important person in Alexander's life, though, Hephaistion gets little to do: Leto is Farnsworth to Farrell's P. Diddy, though his long, stringy hair and permanent eye liner make him look more like Ozzy Osbourne.
He's at Alexander's side for the film's two major battles - the first, against the Persians in the CGI-laden Battle of Gaugmela; the second, a gritty, magenta-hued forest fight against Indian warriors sitting atop armored elephants.
Just when things get going, though, Stone drags the film's energy to a halt by returning repeatedly to Alexander's ally Ptolemy, now aged and played by Anthony Hopkins, toddling around barefoot in a white tunic and deifying his buddy years later while surveying an incredibly fake-looking harbor of Alexandria.
"A friend to man, he changed the world," Ptolemy recalls, ever the reverent narrator. In today's vernacular, we'd say he was a uniter, not a divider.
"Alexander," a Warner Brothers release, is rated R for violence and some nudity/sexuality. Running time: 175 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
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