Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 02/02/05 03:47:59

"Alexander really shouldn't get Stoned."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

There's a great bit in 'Singing In The Rain' when after a disastrous preview of their new talkie, Donald O'Connor suggests they redub the dialogue, add songs, and hey presto a new comedy classic is born. A similiar trick could be pulled in 'Alexander' if they did rewrite and redub all the dialogue. And recast it. And reshot it. And re-edited it. Because although 'Alexander' may not be as bad as some people are calling it, when you consider just how bad that is, it still doesn't work as an endorsement does it?

Oliver Stone's history lesson takes us from the young Alexander growing up to try and rival his father Philip (Val Kilmer), to the young king played by Colin Farrell who is increasingly at odds with his mother, Angeline Jolie (who looks every inch only two years older than Farrell, which she is). This young Alexander will later conquer most of the known world and find lands previously undiscovered by humanity.

Sounds exciting doesn't it? But note that I said 'history lesson', because that's exactly what it is: a dry as bones lecture from Anthony Hopkins over pretty shots of jungles and deserts. If just reading about Alexander's exploits and battles sounds thrilling, then just imagine what it's going to look like on the big screen. But unfortunately, you're going to have to imagine, as Stone has incredibly made a film about THE GREATEST WARRIOR TO HAVE EVER LIVED!, but only included a miserly two battles to illustrate this. In a three hour epic. You want to see Alexander's first few scraps as he brutally puts down the first stirrings of rebellion against him? Tough, we'll just be told that he does and accept it. You want to see Alexander sweep across the whole world for years on end with no limits to his horizons? Tough again, we'll have to settle for being told that he's gone, er, quite far for, er, quite a long time now.

It's as if Oliver Stone and the cast and crew decided to have a sweepstake as to how many elements of a film they could get wrong. Whoever had their money on 'practically all of them' should collect their winnings now.

Should we first mention the fact that Stone has seemingly lost all of his linear, powerful storytelling skills that were honed to perfection in 'JFK' for example? Or the fact that he has such little clue as to what he's doing, that for the final battle ( a faintly surreal charge against an army on elephants) he bathes the screen in a lurid red. For no apparent reason. For minutes on end.

Oh yes, there's a couple of battles here to illustrate just what Alexander was about. But the first, a huge army face-off at Gaugamela, while awe-inspiring at first with its sheer size, quickly becomes incomphrensible as the desert is kicked up into a sandstorm obscuring everything we can see. The main impression that we come away with after this battle is "Wow...the battle of Pelennor fields in 'Return of the King' was really something wasn't it?". Peter Jackson has raised the bar for epics so high now that Stone and 'Alexander' can't even see it, they're that far below it.

A ludicrously bad cast give no help either, particularly with their acting taken from the pages of 'Dial-a-accent'. Farrell has a commanding presence, but his decision to play Alexander with the accent and demeanour of an Irish doorman ruins his interpretation from the start. Val Kilmer meanwhile, seems to believe that Philip was equal parts Yorkshireman, Irishman and everywhere inbetween, while Jolie obviously hails from that little-known part of Macedonia, Russia. Jolie's performance is almost enjoyable as she's so bad and high camp, like the ghosts of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Zsa Zsa Gabor rolled up into one.

'Alexander' might have - just - worked, if it had been as camp as Jolie's performance is. But unfortunately it isn't, as Stone has crafted an incredibly boring film about an incredibly interesting man. Instead of battles we have endless philosophical monologues to the troops about death and destiny (can we just close the book on warriors addressing their troops on horseback just before the big battle, please?) which don't stir the emotions, but close the eyelids. We have endless lovelorn looks between Alexander and his best friend, Hephiston (Jared Leto). Dragged out longer than Ross and Rachel in 'Friends' you just want to scream "Get a room!!" at them to hurry the film up.

And the script gives zero insight into just why Alexander was such an accomplished and inspirational leader. Instead we have endless scenes of talking and dialogue about politics. Which is potentially interesting if it didn't start sounding uncannily like the sequel for 'Anchor Man' ("By the sweet breath of Olympia!" is only one step away from "Odin's ravens!"). And talking of 'Anchor Man', a debate about Alexander's policy that descends into a full blown argument, hilariously brings to mind the "I don't know what we're yelling about!" scene. If only 'Alexander' could be as constantly funny.

There's a fun drinking game to be had during 'Alexander'. Knock back a shot for every time Stone uses a pretentious symbolic shot of an animal as a substitute for one of the characters. You'll be wasted from the Jolie = snake references alone, and that's unfortunately the only fun you'll have from 'Alexander'. When we first saw the trailer for it, my girlfriend remarked: "Why would you want to see that? It's just a twat on a horse". Alexander, the world's greatest warrior, just a twat on a horse? Sadly true, I couldn't have put it better myself.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.